Books, Glorious Books…

At the time of writing, I have been culling: a harrowing experience

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Ah…. Books.  An entirely different matter from reading.  Books are entities; books have a presence of their own beyond the words and the worlds contained within their pages.  Books are things of beauty.  At least that’s how it is for me.

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First, there’s the acquisition: new, secondhand, borrowed, digital, first edition, audio, illustrated, gifted, bequeathed, found on a park bench…

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Then the placing on the shelves.

Or in the pile. The organizing.

Or not.

And then the re-organizing.

 

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Collections…. By author, by series, by publisher, by colour…

And the lists, oh, the lists!  And resolutions, decisions, challenges – what to read this year, this month, this week? So many permutations, so many options.  The potential for hours of pointless pleasurable musing and meddling and still not a word read.

There is also the CULL – a desperate state of mind which comes over me once in a while.   I feel about books as Fagin probably felt about his secret stash of stolen trinkets: I pour over them; fawn over them.  Count them, flick through their pages, caress their covers…

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Or perhaps I’m more like Gollum…

No.  I haven’t noticed myself whispering to them.

Yet.

 

At the time of writing, I have been culling: a harrowing experience.  I write the word in hushed tones with furtive glances over my shoulder.  That’s what has sparked this post; I need soothing.  I’m not sure how I’ll feel when I next look at the ravished shelves.  And until the boxes physically leave my possession there is always the possibility that I’ll weaken and the shelves will be bulging once more with books I don’t plan to read again and to which I have no specific emotional attachment beyond the fact that they are – well – Books.  That’s enough unto itself, surely?

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I have also been sorting: all the unread books are now collected together on their own shelf shelves.  There are quite a few.  I’ve resisted counting them.  So far.

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And I am sorting my lists of books “To – Be – Read”.  Yes, I have several lists, and that’s without all the samples sitting on my virtual shelves on my Kindle, and the titles ‘saved for later’ gathering virtual dust in my virtual shopping basket.  The main list grew so long and so unwieldy that I thought it might be easier to split it into something more manageable.  It’s now an Excel document with many pages: covering genres, themes, authors or anything else that takes my fancy.  I haven’t counted how many titles are on these pages; that would be terrifying.  I no longer think of them as ‘to be reads’: they are merely suggestions, recommendations from which I might choose when I’m ready.  Helpful; friendly.  Benign.  My own virtual bookshop that I can dip into whenever I wish.  And a literary stress ball: I tweak it regularly and feel calm…

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I generally read between 40 and 50 books a year.  At that rate, I shall need several reincarnations before I start to make an impression on these tomes-in-waiting.  But – nothing ventured and all that.  I haven’t set any targets for the year beyond avoiding spontaneous book-buying splurges and trying to read a reasonable number of those I already own.  I shall only buy a book if I intend to read it immediately and I’ll hold myself accountable to that at the end of the year.  Unless of course, I come across a serious bargain – and it’s a book that I know I shall read eventually.  Or a book that forms part of a collection.  Which brings to mind the question: how many books on the Virago Modern Classics list these days?  I have about twenty; are there many more to find? No need to answer that; I know I have plenty of scope for unscheduled book buying should I stumble across a VMC from the early editions.

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I also need to purge myself of another list – one which throws me baleful stares on a regular basis.  This is the list of books that I’ve read and tell myself I shall write about – which also manifests as a pile of books with luminous stickers protruding from various pages.  Sometimes I feel like covering this pile with a cloth, or shoving the whole into a cupboard.  But then, I’m currently clearing out cupboards, not squeezing things in.

I can’t think of myself as reviewing books: I don’t have the inclination to produce an adequate summary of the story.  And it’s generally already been done – much more effectively than if I attempted it.

But I do like writing about books, as much as I enjoy reading about them – and indeed, actually reading them.  So I shall make more effort this year.  I’ll manage the occasional single book post but I’m envisioning some groupings: 2 or 3 books at a time which share some commonalities.  Though it does put me in mind of school essays: Compare and Contrast….

I now realise I am writing about writing about reading.  Time to stop.

But composing this rather pointless piece has given me the opportunity to browse Pinterest for gorgeous pictures of dusty old tomes – a fine pastime on this cold February afternoon.  And it makes me feel a little better about my boxes of paperbacks, boxed up and destined for the charity shop…

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43 thoughts on “Books, Glorious Books…”

  1. I’ve been through that culling process myself, and it hurts. Usually it was brought about by a house move or general declutter (my wife likes these), but they still feel wrong. I have boxes of books in the cellar and garage, as I don’t have shelf space for all of them. This too hurts. I go and look at them sometimes. Sort of disinter them. Like Heathcliff with Cathy…

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    1. Simon, this particular cull has brought up memories of books once owned now, long gone. I still miss them – and question what possessed me in thinking I no longer needed them. Of course, I do no longer need them; I just like to have them around – even packed away in boxes. I move house too often: every time it means a few more boxes are let go. I have no books in boxes now – apart from those destined for the charity shop this week. sigh ….. 😉

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  2. Oh books – definitely the most painful part of any life laundry. The thing to remember is that it is ok to keep anything you love. For my part, I could quite happily exist in a single room lined with books, together with a kettle to make tea and a phone to order takeaways!!! 🙂

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  3. Often I have found myself really regretting parting with particular books after a cull. I now put the culled books into the garage for a six month cooling off period, and then have a look to see if there are any I’ve changed my mind about. Inevitably some make their way back to my bookshelves!

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    1. Katrina, part of this cull has been going through boxes as you describe although a number more have gone direct from the shelves. I’ve culled cookery books too: even those I’ve never cooked a recipe from seem reluctant to be sent to new homes where they might actually get used!

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  4. Some day, my kids will flip through some of the ancient-books, wondering why I kept them. They probably wouldn’t care that someone wrote them a century ago, and that folks held them in their hands beside a candle 100 years ago. 🙂 They might care that husband’s elderly aunt considered them a treasure first..but they’ll probably toss them out anyhow.

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    1. Ah, now those are the books that I shall never cull. Those special old books deserve a loving place to repose, with someone who appreciates them. You’ve made me think though: I shall make provision for those few really old books that I have. I would hate to think of them being tossed out without a thought.

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  5. This is a post I wish I had written myself. Our most painful cull though was when we moved back to England, when we realised we simply could not fit all our books into our present house. We had books from my childhood, my student days, and every decade since. Some were valuable, some were lovely, but we had to Take A Grip. And we did. We made some mistakes, but out guiding rule – ‘if you haven’t opened it in 20 years, what makes you think you’re going to do so now?’ has worked surprisingly well. Now, the rule with fiction (I haunt charity shops for contemporary fiction) is ‘one in, one out’. This sort of works. I’ve just had another cull. Passing on to friends rather than immediately to a charity shop eases the pain. You have some lovely old books, I notice. But I love your topsy-turvey (in a good way) book room.

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  6. Oh, by the way. You said you like writing about reading. I find that on the whole I don’t want to do so on my blog, but I do enjoy writing about the books I read, and do so on on ‘Goodreads’. It helps me focus, and reminds me of what I have read, so it’s for me more than for an audience really.

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    1. Margaret, I am years behind on my Goodreads page. I used to update it regularly with what I was reading and now it seems so far behind that to bring it up-to-date feels too daunting. And to carry on now, with a gap of several years, would bother me. Ridiculous really! That said, I do enjoy including books here – I just need to get around to it 🙂

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  7. Hahaha! We’re all crazy, all us booklovers! Excel lists are an essential of life – how did we survive when we just had pens and notebooks? The ability to sort and re-sort my lists is so much more relaxing than actually sorting the shelves would be, especially since I currently have about twice as many books as I have shelf-room for. I shall have to join you in the culling, soon…

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  8. Yes, yes, yes-how I feel your pain! Who can put into words what constitutes a book – any book- and the magic hold they have over us.( although, Sandra, you have come the closest). I, too, have longed for a book lined room- one quiet and overlooking the garden, where, maybe in a hundred years , my skeleton could be found with a contented smile proven on it’s jaw- and acres of dust covered tomes in attendance.
    I had a severe cull last summer- hard and blinkered- some beautiful and old, but untouched and out of sight ( they went to Auction, not for profit(!!), but in the hope that the buyer would move them on an appreciative recipient. Those that went to charity- some I see locally, unsold, unloved, unwanted-and I itch to buy them back.
    Oh, dear- there is no answer!

    xx

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    1. I know you feel the same way, Pat. Sending such books for auction must have been even harder than dispatching my paperbacks. But do you know, I was looking at what’s left yesterday and I picked out a few more to go. I find myself feeling warmly towards the idea of having fewer books – and those that remain are those that contain what I truly love. Stories within their covers, of course, but also memories, experiences, specific points in life. And I can at last see what I have – instead of at least half of them being hidden behind their more recently-acquired cousins. (It’s pouring with rain here this morning and very dark. Makes me think of childhood in November. Such a fascinating and unlooked-for connection!) xx

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  9. I so enjoyed reading this post (and looking at all the lovely pictures!). I like that you compare yourself to Fagin or Gollum. I’m thinking maybe like the dragon in The Hobbit, guarding all the treasure. Why is it that I find it so hard to give away books that I know I won’t even read again (let alone the rest of them)? But I like to tell myself that there are worse things in life than being a book lover/collector. I mean, it could be trolls or china dolls or shoes… 🙂

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  10. Ian believes my book hoarding is a sickness- but what a sweet one- the same as plant collecting!
    So I must keep quiet about the bits of car that he hoards-each to their own!

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  11. I understand the problem, I sympathise and empathise, but I have no answer. I’ll just say that sometimes a halfway house is useful. I put books in a carrier bag and tuck it away somewhere in the knowledge that any I miss I can pick out and any I don’t can safely be passed on. It might help that I used to be a finance office for an rather unfashionable charity and so know first-hand the importance of donations.

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    1. Thanks for this, Jane 🙂 I wasn’t expecting it but this post and the responses have contributed to me making peace with the whole process. I’m finding I can view the passing on of books in a very different light – and think of myself as a collector rather than a hoarder. The former is more discerning than the latter, and yes – passing on books for others to enjoy is a way of giving pleasure and funding to others 🙂

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  12. I love the arrangement of books by color, it looks so pretty on the shelf. I cull often and to easy my trauma, I always leave a little note in the book for the next reader. If I don’t have a specific person to pass a book along to, I leave them at my local coffee shop that has a book shelf. I always feel a little lighter when I leave them, feeling good that something I enjoyed ( or occasionally didn’t), will find a new life with a new reader.

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  13. I love hunting for new books, too. Unfortunately, ours tend to be disorganized because the kids like to move them around. Wherever they end up on the shelf though, they’re like old friends.

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  14. What an enjoyable read! Relieved I’m not the only one who feels uncomfortable about culling my books (I can never give away I seem to have to trade). People ask why don’t you just join the library, are you ever going to read it again? I believe each time a book is read a part of its spirit strengthens, and I adore being surrounded by my happy books, knowing I’ll probably never read most of them again!

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  15. About those To-Be-Read, books, I can relate to you to the last whimpering, vanishing, sighing syllable. Since I live in a mobocarcy —all right: a democracy— I suspect my shelves have taken to the form of governance and hence the unread books are a majority and unless they decide on a Shelfexit, there is no way I am going to see the backs of those in this life, or the next, or the next. As for writing about books, there can’t be an exercise more frustrating than that! I usually end up reading them twice before I can mumble a word.

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  16. I love how you have arranged the books

    If you’re interested in Charity shopping, I’ve just written a review on Octavia Foundation, Tooting. Have a read and spread the word on the good work that they do: tootinghustle.wordpress.com

    Happy blogging x

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  17. Books! The first love of my life! I have more than a 1000 (possibly … alright, probably closer to 2000). My husband, my Mum and I share the books. Once all three of us have read them, I make the decision to donate or to keep for a second read. If it is a book of poetry, prayers or philosophy it may be kept on one shelf as keepers. If I plan a reread, it goes on another. Otherwise, it goes to donation. There are 10 books to be reread. There are 22 held in the category of keepers. Now that sounds like I have a hold of this tiger’s tail, and I don’t. I keep taking books out of the library and borrowing on my e-reader and not donating nearly enough. I see myself setting up plans to read the whole of an author’s work each year. I like mysteries and this year I’m working on Robert B Parker’s Jesse Stone series. I only owned 6 of the 15, so I’m borrowing the others from my local library. At least I’m not adding more in that case and I do donate them after being read once.

    I started a serious cull of my cookbooks and have whittled them down to 8 small pamphlet-type recipe books, my Better Homes and Gardens cookbook from my first wedding and a 3-hole binder full of the recipes I’ve used. Ultimately I’ll reduce those pamphlet recipes to ones I would use. I gave away 12 cookbooks this past few months.

    I keep buying old books. I don’t know why. It is truly an addiction. When I read your blog, I realized that I will never read them all. One year, I limited myself to purchasing $100 worth of books. Then, I found a place that sold books for 10 cents each. ARGHHH! Fortunately, they closed so I needn’t worry about that any longer.

    My excel spread sheet has 40 pages of book titles. I have made several spreadsheets of books I want to read, schedules of when I’ll read them. Is my OCD showing?

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  18. This is so totally MY WHOLE LIFE 🙂
    I have an Excel sheet listing – wait, I go and have a look – erm…. 1809 books – by far not all of them read but many, many, too many given away. When I started this list, I already had moved at least 3 times (across countries and continents) and at every removal I disposed of at least 200 books, every time. NOW the rules in our house are: For every book I buy I must pass on one book…. and last summer when we returned from our yearly UK trip by car (reading only in the original language and living in France) I must have stored and boxed and squashed and hidden some 160 books – my husband offers a divorce every time we visit…. 🙂 I have very bad eyesight but can still read for hours – luckily…. I therefore threaten to him to take it easy as one day I won’t see anything anymore and then he can get rid of all my books. I have my firm favourites, especially what we call ‘gift books’, little tomes beautifully crafted, I have glorious garden books, collections, when I ‘find’ a new author I like, I get all their books one way or another and I’m deeply thankful for my many friends in England who collect my orders over the year….
    And then I bring bags full of ‘as new’ novels to my favourite charity shop(s) – and hopefully buy some new ones too. If I am not carrying my many pages of titles -tightly listed by author – with me, I have been known to buy books two, three times 🙂
    This is a PRECIOUS POST – Thank you for sharing.

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  19. Hi Kiki, thank you so much for commenting; I’m glad there are others who respond to books in this way. I love idea of your spreadsheet – it surpasses mine!

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  20. Well, thanks you to Sandra, I’ve bought and read all of the Cazalet Chronicles (fantastic) and now have cluttered up my house with more of Elizabeth Jane Howard’s books, a Sea Change, After Julius and so forth. I am a GP and visit a lot of houses and you would be amazed that many houses, perhaps 4 out of 5 in my area have NO books at all. A very few houses look like mine, which by the sound of it looks like yours! It doesn’t help that my kids and husband read like mad as well and we are also all hoarders. The only ones that don’t read are the cats.

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    1. Ha ha – Katie I’m so pleased that you enjoyed The Cazalets, I don’t think I’ve come across anyone who hasn’t done so yet but there must be people out there! I’ll be finishing my re-read very soon and I’d quite happily start the whole series again. (I’d love to know how you find Howard’s other books. I read The Long View and struggled with it a bit. I’m really keen to read the latest biography of her – one day I’ll get to it!)

      Your comments about people’s bookless houses strike a chord. Although most of our books are not in public view so were you to visit here you might be mistaken for assuming we are not readers! That said, an observant visitor might notice the small piles of books here and there…. oh, and the small bookshelf of books which sits directly opposite the front door. The main bookshelves are out of sight, but now I start to think about it, there are books all over the place – including those which our cat likes to sit on! She enjoys reposing on a good book, especially if someone is trying to read it at the time … makes a change for her from cushions, sofas and hiding in boxes! 😀

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