Thursday, October 15, 2009

Too Much of a Good Thing

I just read this post on Lakeside Musings and this one awhile back on chaotic compendiums. Many libraries practice what is called "book weeding" but I think it's a great idea for home collections as well.

One of my favorite non-book blogs is called Unclutterer, which I discovered relatively recently and have already found to be very inspiring. What's great about Unclutterer is that it's all about restraint and responsibility but it's also not extreme or countercultural. It's not about asceticism or anti-consumerism. The goal of Unclutterer is to help people clear out all those excess possessions in life that must be constantly straightened and put away, kept track of, worried about, searched for, tripped over, and so forth. One of the first things I did was clear off my desk at work. I put all my pens, paperclips, Post-Its, reference books, etc into a drawer, so all I have out is my monitor, keyboard, dictation machine, a little picture, and a little shelf system for folders I'm working on. Law offices can be hectic places and there are times when my desk is just full of STUFF. But the less I have to begin with, the easier it is for me. Sometimes just looking at visual clutter can raise stress levels.

Personally, I think some of Unclutterer's advice about books and book storage goes a little too far for a bookworm like me. For example, they're all about Amazon Kindle and other digital options, but for most of us, part of the reading experience is being able to hold a physical book. Unclutterer also recommends not buying any book that is in the public domain and can be found in its entirety online. Again, that may be a great idea for some people, but not for me. To be fair, however, a lot of audiophiles balked at Unclutterer's suggestion that we rip our CDs to our computers and then get rid of the CD itself. Part of the of the music-listening experience, they argued, was possessing the actual, physical CD or record, along with the liner notes. I thought it was a great idea (I seriously had way too many CDs) but I totally understand their position. Uncluttering is all about what works for you.

With that in mind, here are my suggestions for keeping your book volume under control. I mean, they're pretty obvious, but I just felt inspired to write something.

1. Don't use the bookstore as a library. Buy only those books that you strongly believe you will refer back to for favorite quotes and passages and will one day re-read.

2. Try to avoid the "book" section of your local drugstore. There's absolutely nothing wrong with "low-brow" stuff, of course (I LOVE Star Trek books), but, let's face it, fluff is not filling and gets stale very quickly. Before you know it, you'll have bookshelves full of cheap paperbacks.

3. BUT, on the other hand, don't buy books that you only think you should own because you want to impress people or just because they look cool. Some books, for example, have a badass reputation. They've been banned for decades and frequently challenged. They were, and maybe still are, controversial. I read William S. Burroughs's Naked Lunch in high school. To my teenaged mine, this was SHOCKING! OMG, my parents would be HORRIFIED. So I went and bought several more Burroughs books. And, uh, had no idea what he was talking about, except that it was, um . . . rather grotesque. Last year, I dumped them off (except Naked Lunch, which I do actually like) at the local booksale.

4. DONATE. Libraries and community booksales are great places. My favorite coffee place has a few shelves where people leave books for other patrons to enjoy. I've deposited a few there myself. There's also the, which I've never tried but have heard great things about. I've also heard of charities that collect books for prison libraries and other organizations that send books to our troops overseas. I'm sure there are other worthy places out there too.

5. MONEY! You can sell used books on Amazon, Ebay, and other like places. Consignment stores are another option for books in good condition, especially hardcovers.

6. Lastly, don't feel guilty about getting rid of a book you never read and maybe never liked. There's surely someone out there who will feel differently.

What do you think? What are your thoughts or suggestions on book selection and book weeding?


Caitlin said...

Thanks for the link! You know how I feel about books & possessions. I love my books. I love my stuff, but if I had to walk away from all of it tomorrow I could.

My husband is back in school earning his college degree & I've learned all about the maximum goodness of my book choices, though, since he's pretty much been able to use my little library to write just about all of his papers so far! Yay!

Anonymous said...

I used to be so good about never buying a book I hadn't read before. Buying books was a way of fully committing to my love for a particular book. Those days are gone now that my pocket money has increased, and I frequently buy books I've never read - but usually only if they're around 25 cents! I'm a fan of donating the odd book or two to my library - sometimes I'll see a book I bought at last year's book sale in this year's book sale...!

Anyway, I'm all for thoughtful book buying and not afraid to weed my own collection - at least in theory. Actions speak louder than words these days...always something to work on!

E. L. Fay said...

Caitlin: I majored in English and was surprised to find that I already owned some of the books we were required to read. Definitely made me wish my professors would've chosen something beyond generic "great books."

Tuulenhaiven: Our local arts center has a huge annual booksale. My mother and I have often wondered how many books just get circulated around town - one person buys it, reads it, and then re-donates it, another person buys it, re-reads it, and then re-donates it. . . Kind of makes me feel sad for those books that don't have a permanent home.

Diane said...

Thanks for the link, but your comments and thoughts were helpful as well. Getting rid of all our books, and reading electronically just is not going to make all of us happy. It really is a personal thing ;)

JoAnn said...

"Don't use the bookstore as a library." I need to keep reminding myself of that one! Great suggestions.

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