I’m possibly taking my April resolution for a Super Simple Month a bit too seriously. Instead of starting to read new books, I’m re-reading a few of my favorites — they’re books I love, books that entertain, as well as books that cause me to examine my view of the world. They’re also books that are so complex I fear I may have missed some insights the first time I read them.
I’m currently re-reading Haruki Murakami’s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. Murakami is a gifted storyteller and I’ve wanted to re-read this mystery since I made it through the first time. However, the book lingered for many years on my bookshelf, and it was starting to become a “look-how-cool-I-am” book (one that sits on your shelf for the sole purpose of impressing other people, not because you’ll actually read it again).
When we were packing up books for our move, I committed to getting rid of all of my books that fell into the “look-how-cool-I-am” category. I thought I had been good at keeping these books off my shelves, but I certainly found a number of them when I was sorting titles. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle was one that I initially put in the Donation pile because I hadn’t re-read it like I had thought I would. After a few minutes in the Donation pile, though, I moved it to the Keep pile and gave myself three months to re-read it. I wrote on June 1 in my calendar to donate it if it wasn’t re-read. I did this with three titles, all of which I hope to re-read this month before donating them to our library’s annual book sale.
When packing up our bookshelves, these are the standards I used for deciding what moved and what didn’t:
- Current reference books. These are books that are as up-to-date as possible and are more accurate or specific than what you might find online. For example, I kept two dictionaries — one Scrabble dictionary (because it’s nice to have a copy on the table during game play) and one illustrated French dictionary for my son (he’s learning French so he can speak with my husband’s family). I got rid of our other dictionaries since finding words online is easier than retrieving a book off the shelf.
- Regularly accessed cookbooks. Technically, these are reference books, but I think they deserve a mention independently. If you use the cookbook at least once a month, I think it’s a good book to keep. If you use it less than that, you might want to consider giving it away.
- Books you plan to read. My rule of thumb is that I can only have four months of future reading material in the house. Any more than that, and the books start overwhelming the bookcase. I read four to eight books a month, so for me that means only 20 or 30 to-read books on the bookshelf at a time. I have a Kindle, so I also count my Kindle books in this number, even though they don’t take up physical space.
- Books you have scheduled time to re-read. If it’s not on the calendar, it’s not really to going happen. Keep only the books you will actually re-read, and then get rid of them.
- Books of great sentimental or financial value. Maybe the book is a first edition and it’s signed by the author? Maybe it was the first book you ever read after you learned to read? Keep only those, however, that would break your heart to lose. A copy of The Scarlet Letter that you bought to read for an English class in high school can go (especially if you hated it). Keep the copy of the book that changed your life.
- If you have children, books for children. It’s easy for kids to work on their reading skills when they have many options for reading materials.
Donate, Recycle, or Toss
- Damaged books. If a book is damaged and it’s not worth salvaging, get rid of it. Toss it if it’s covered in mold/mildew, and put it in the recycling bin if it’s only structurally damaged.
- Books you’ll never read/re-read. Maybe you purchased the book thinking you should read it, but never got around to it. If you know deep down that you’ll never read it (or re-read it), get rid of it.
- Look-how-cool-I-am books. Bookshelves are for storing reference books, books of great value to you, and books you plan to read. Bookshelves are not for trying to impress other people. If you want to impress other people, get a trophy case.
We ended up moving 17 boxes of books, and 6 of those boxes were full of my son’s books. For a bibliophile like me, I felt like I did a decent job of getting rid of all (or at least most of) the clutter. Could your bookshelves use a good review? What standards do you use to decide what stays and what goes? If you plan to re-read a book, do you have a due date set on your calendar? Do you have more books on your to-read shelf than you could possibly read this year (or in your lifetime)? Can you stop buying books until you’ve worked through your to-read list?