So many books: To Keep, or Not to Keep?

by , under books and reading, LibraryThing, time

Yesterday was the last day to use a coupon at Hastings to “trade in five, get an extra $5.00 in credit.” The five items could be any combination of books, DVDs, music CDs, and games. I found nine or ten books I was willing to part with, knowing that they never take everything I bring. (If they have enough copies of it already, if it’s not in their system, or if there’s something about the condition that they don’t like, they won’t accept it.) I gave them everything but The Ghost Stories of Edith Wharton, which I held back in case I couldn’t get five from the rest of the batch. I was surprised at a couple of things they didn’t take, including The Crazed by Ha Jin, which I’d purchased at Hastings, and which still has their green Used sticker on it. Maybe they’ll have another “extra $5.00” coupon next month and I’ll try that one again. They also didn’t take Manufacturing Consent, which annoyed me because I’ve been looking at it on the shelf, unread, for years — or sometimes maybe it was looking at ME! — and part of me always still wanted to read it and couldn’t get rid of it, and when I finally decide I don’t need to keep it anymore, Hastings won’t take it.

So, they took five books, and I got my bonus store credit, which is great. (I also got to keep that Edith Wharton story collection, which is also great because she’s one of my favorites.) But it was really interesting, yesterday, scanning my shelves to try to pull out books to trade in. I found a few that I wanted to get rid of, but saw some problem in them, something that would prevent Hastings from taking them. I saw a couple of mass market paperbacks I really should weed out, and donate to the library for their sale; Hastings only buys used hardcovers and trade paperbacks, not the smaller mass market size. Yesterday was the first time, in a really long time, when I felt seriously ready to weed books from my personal library.

Part of this is, I’d really like to get an e-reader of some kind, but I can’t justify getting one when I own so many books, especially books that I haven’t read. A quick calculation using my LibraryThing numbers — which aren’t totally correct but are close enough for a good estimate — shows almost 49% of the books in the “My Library” collection are also in the “To Read” collection. Even if I took two weeks off from work and spent those eighty hours reading, I could barely make a dent. Having gotten rid of five books yesterday (including two or three from “To Read”), I’m thinking that doing some additional weeding in the near future would be good for my psyche.

There are arguments for and against weeding — looking mostly at books I’ve owned for years but haven’t read. One day last summer, wanting something different and funny, I picked The Partly Cloudy Patriot by Sarah Vowell off my shelf, and tore through it in only a few days. I loved it, and I found myself telling Jeff, “Let me read you this one part…” over and over again. And a couple of years ago, my book group read Middlemarch by George Eliot, which I’d purchased in 1994 and hadn’t read; the receipt was still in the book! It was hard to read that edition — a mass market paperback that I’ve since replaced with a trade size — but once I switched over to an audio version, I fell totally in love with it. But then there are books that you buy, so sure you’ll enjoy them, and when you actually read them, they just don’t do it for you. I started reading The 351 Books of Irma Arcuri as soon as I got it in the mail last fall — it arrived when I was in the hospital, and I had Jeff bring it to me ASAP. I read less than 100 pages and gave up, and was able to trade it in at Hastings.

That’s the challenge for me: to look at the books I own, and decide which ones I love enough to keep on the shelves; and to look at the books I own but haven’t yet read, and try to divine which ones are most likely to give me that “I-love-this-book-SOOOOO-MUUUUUUUCH!!!!!” feeling. One feature of some e-readers that I’ve been thinking about: the “read a sample chapter” option. If I’d read a sample of Irma Arcuri before I actually bought it (albeit used), I might have said, “Eh, I think I’ll pass,” saving me time and money, and a little space on my shelf. I also like the brands of readers that allow you to check out library books, another way to sample a title before “making a commitment.”

How do other book lovers — especially those who acquire more than they borrow, and acquire more books than they have time to read — figure out what to keep, and what’s best to trade or give away?

© All the parts of my life 2008-2015.

  1. trish

    Good topic! Having recently weeded out quite a few books, I have a definite opinion on this!

    When I went to week through the few hundred books I have, I took a hard look at each book and decided if I'd really seriously read it in the future. Sometimes you buy a book having every intention of reading it, but years later your tastes have changed and it just doesn't hold the same appeal. Sometimes I picked up a book on a whim, not sure if I'd read it or not, but wanting the book just the same. Sometimes I picked up a book on a recommendation, and on closer inspection I decide that with all the other great books out there, I probably won't read this book anyway.

    I'm pretty ruthless when I clean out my shelves, but books pile up so quickly that it's hard to keep it under control.

  2. vc

    hi Marie! I love the library as a great resource to test out books on my "to read" list. Low commitment, and if I love it I can always buy it.

    Plus, the due date gives me a deadline. I have to read it by then or give up on it, which keeps it from lingering on the shelf.

  3. Valerie

    Something happened when I was trying to leave a comment, so trying again.

    Funny that you loved Vowell's Partly Cloudy Patriot … I tried reading her The Wordy Shipmates, but just couldn't get into it. That's the type of book I'd try to trade in at my local used bookstore 😛 . Like yours, though, they take books based on supply and demand; if too many copies of one title they won't take it but always suggest trying again in the future.


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