Books: The challenge of thinning out the herd

Friends of the Boston Public Library book sale

City-Wide Friends of the Boston Public Library book sale (photo: DY)

Four times a year, the City-Wide Friends of the Boston Public Library holds a used book sale at the Central Branch to raise monies for their support of the city’s public library system. Usually I stop by in search of bargains for my personal library. But I went to this weekend’s sale with another mission in mind: To donate a dozen of my books.

Yes, folks, although I continue to obtain new books at a regular pace, I am making a concerted effort to thin the herd. Inspired and guided by Japanese “tidying” expert Marie Kondo (author of the bestselling The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up), I am trying to pare down my book collection from around 2,000 to a more manageable 1,200 or so.

Kondo recommends decluttering by category, in roughly this order: (1) clothing; (2) books; (3) papers; (4) miscellany; (5) items of sentimental value. The first was easy. I sorted out my extraneous clothing in a few hours. Fashion — as anyone who knows me in person will attest — is not on my radar screen. I’ve donated several bags of clothes and tossed a lot of stuff that had been hanging around.

But now I’m tackling my books, and to be honest, it will take me the rest of the year to donate, give away, and otherwise reduce the piles of books in my possession. During 2016, I’ve culled about 100 books.

Why am I doing this? Well, as you can see from photos of some of my bookshelves below, my space at home has basically run out. (It’s worse at my university office.) But more importantly, I am facing the fact that I bought many of these books under a hazy assumption that I would have eons of time to (1) read even the books I’m only casually interested in, and (2) pursue a virtually endless array of writing projects. Now that I’m in my mid-fifties, I know that will not be the case.

Kondo recommends keeping only those books that bring us joy, but that’s an unrealistic standard for me. (Uh, books about workplace bullying and toxic work environments don’t exactly fit that description, but they allow me to do my job.) Instead, I’m simply asking myself what I’m likely to read, re-read, and use during the next couple of decades. I must make choices.

And so I will. It’s not easy; I do have emotional attachments to books. Most of the volumes in these photos are keepers, and many have been with me through multiple moves. But I am taking pleasure in giving away books that may be sources of enlightenment, entertainment, and enjoyment to others. There are a lot more to come.

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3 responses

  1. Dave, it sounds like I need to take a trip to Boston to help relieve you of your burden of too many great books!

    Actually I am in the same boat but have been culling my collection for years by giving 4 to 8 boxes every year to the local community college college booksale. I have also been using the library as much as possible and/or getting Kindle books in order to avoid restocking my personal shelves. However it remains a daunting task!

  2. I will give you another pile.

  3. When I was a grad student, the joy of my year was the AAUW book sale at my university. So, at the other end of my academic career, I felt quite happy to donate my academic books to the AAUW in my current city, knowing that grad students, and others, would buy them and the cycle would continue!

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