Monday, May 18, 2009


I just finished a semi-traumatic weeding of my books.

Theoretically, I have stiff standards and criteria for weeding my personal collection that I believe in quite strongly. When I'm wondering whether I want to keep a book, I think to myself: will I be able to get it at the library? do I love it so much I want to be able to read it at any time? if I had a question about something in this book at midnight, would I need to be able to look it up right away? (thanks to Melody for that one) do I really love this book, or did I just kind of enjoy reading it once or twice?

Anything that doesn't meet those criteria should, theoretically, be tossed into the weed-box.

It is SO MUCH HARDER than that. I was just visiting my sister Laurie, who is the best book-lover I know at getting rid of books; it's always inspiring to see that they have a whole shelf on a bookcase that is just for LIBRARY books. I don't know that I've ever had an empty bookshelf anywhere I've lived. So I tried to adopt Laurie's steel this morning.

Today it was the childhood book collection. I didn't have a great many books when I was a kid, so every book was precious. I tried to let go out of that feeling and remind myself that I have MANY books now. It isn't that it's still hard to get rid of books in general, but those few books that were the precious ones--if I let myself think about it enough, it feels like a betrayal of my childhood self to weed them. I also always used to think that it would be awesome to have tons and tons of books, like Vicky Austin's grandfather or the libraries you sometimes see on TV; now that doesn't seem desirable at all. (Especially since I'm about to move for the second time in 2009, and I don't expect to stay where I'm moving for the rest of my life, or even many years.)`

I got rid of a large box, and those shelves haven't been so empty in years. But it took three passes. There were some that were obvious on the first try: 90s paperbacks I only read once, three copies of Beverly Cleary's Fifteen (sometimes people pick up books for me, saying "didn't know if you had this one", and set them on that shelf), Agatha Christie mysteries I took to summer camp. But there were many others I had to think hard about: why was I reluctant to give this up? I'm ashamed at how often I don't want to weed a book, even if I've upgraded to a nicer copy and this is now a duplicate, because it's the copy I read (and reread and reread) first, and I love the cover. And there was Roald Dahl's Matilda: often when a book fair came to school I was allowed to choose one book, and one year I chose this. I read it several times, but I don't love it now, and it will always be in the library if I should want it. But it's hard to forget how I pored over all the books at the book fair and finally decided this was the book I wanted more than any other. Eventually, it went into the discards. (I kept The Witches, though.) These were the kind of books that left on the second pass. On the third pass, I tossed out books like Little Women. It's easy to pass over books like that because you think "Little Women, that's a classic, moving on to The Great Mom Swap..."

I decided several years ago to stop thinking about value when I weeded books. Some of my books, mostly the nurse books and the vintage teen romances, are worth something; taken together, my book collection could be worth quite a bit. But the trouble of trying to sell them just isn't worth it to me, so I just base my decisions on whether I want the books or not. Still, there are some things that bewilder me. What about the ex-library editions? The bookstore won't take them; I could certainly sell them on ebay or just to online friends, but as I say, it's more trouble than it's worth to me. (That includes letting someone else take a cut for selling them for me. I just don't want to deal with it.) I ended up leaving them alone, so there are a disproportionate number of ex-library books I don't want still on the shelves. Also any number of beat-up paperbacks that are too beat-up for Powell's, but not bad enough to recycle.

I have ways of evading weeding. I tell myself "this book isn't mine to weed; it's really my sister's". But I've been forcing myself to think: did my sister leave this behind on my shelves when she left home, or did she not? has she ever expressed interest in picking up her old books from home? do you really think she would put this on her shelves now if she had it? The answer is always no.

Perhaps hardest of all: the Nancy Drew books. I liked Nancy Drew a lot when I was a kid, and I have quite a lot of them, mostly in my favorite matte yellow binding. In all previous weeding expeditions, I've never once considered getting rid of the Nancy Drews, even though I also never consider reading them. Today I thought: why? I'm not likely to read most of them ever again. I don't know that I'll have any kids who'll want to read them. It's nice to think that maybe someday my nieces will like coming over and reading the Nancy Drews, but odds are perfectly good that none of them will be interested, and the occasional read by a niece hardly seems like good justification for keeping three-odd feet of hardbound books around. (Besides, I tell myself, my nieces will be MUCH too busy when they visit me to read; they'll only want to do stuff like help me make jam, ask me to teach them to sew, beg me to help them identify the wildflowers on my property, and go wading in my creek, right? Then we'll eat pie, and they'll tell me that visiting me is the best thing ever.)

But I think I'm going to put off a Nancy Drew decision for a while longer.

How are you, with weeding your personal collection? What are your peculiar hangups?


Melody Marie Murray said...

Hangups? I have no hangups about books! Perish the thought.

I've shared with you before my philosophy for what earns a place on the shelf- I call that my 3 a.m. rule. In practice, though, it is very likely that once something earns a place it is allowed to keep it, even when said place is more of a sinecure than not.

Some of the things that slid in under the "Love, love, love this" clause no longer belong- f'rinstance some of the Heinlein which will be available at the library as long as there are libraries. And I'm fairly certain that if I forget what TANSTAAFL means, I can wait til morning to find out.

I have a lovely expanse of shelving that I make an earnest effort to confine myself to, but the one book in one book out rule is just starry-eyed idealism and unless I change my ways I'm doomed to be that little old lady who navigates through narrow paths of books stacked floor-to-ceiling whilst bemoaning the state of the world these days.

Gee, thanks for bringing up a tender subject like this.

Kathleen McDade said...

I think I'm pretty good about husband disagrees. Although one problem I have is actually getting rid of the stuff I weed. It tends to hang around for a while before I sell it or give it away.

I read a lot from the library, but have a flexible rule that if I check something out of the library at least 3 times I have permission to buy it.

Wendy said...

An update: Powell's took about a third of my carefully selected "Powell's might want this" grouping, for $23. Well, it's all about Having Less Stuff, right?

Becki said...

I own hardly any books, and have no qualms about weeding. The only ones I own are the ones that I'll want to read at 3am or need to reference frequently, since it wouldn't be convenient to keep running off to the library. That said, I harbor great love for te 1930s editions of Nancy Drew. I'd be happy to pay you if you happen to have any.

Elizabeth said...

Dude, I SO relate. Including about needing to own certain books in the edition in which you read them as a child, even if you now own other editions as well.

If you saw the state of my apartment, my empathy would not be a cause of comfort; quite the opposite, actually. But there you are.

Wendy said...

Sorry, Becki--the few non-revised Nancy Drews I have are my mother's blue tweeds from the 1950s. I love those thirties covers, too, and I can SEE that the text is more interesting, but they just aren't the ones I read when I was a kid.

Katharine Bond said...

Weeding is so difficult; objectively, we either need to do ANOTHER weeding pass or buy another bookcase.

I just can't get rid of any more books. I loved having a lot of books at home growing up, and I want my daughter to have that too. I read so many things that way that I probably wouldn't have.

Also, Nancy Drew was good, but I liked Trixie Belden better.

Wendy said...

Yes, I loved Trixie, too! And the wonder is that THEY are actually very re-readable. I was actually going to post about the Trixie re-issues sometime soon.

Kathy said...

There are re-issues? I didn't know that, and now, I feel a book buying urge coming on.

Beth Hilleke said...

HOW ON EARTH COULD YOU GET RID OF LITTLE WOMEN???? Ok, if you must, you must, but really??

Wendy said...

Well, I have no doubt that Little Women will always be in the library, anywhere I go (unless it's somewhere like Abu Dhabi, where I wouldn't have it with me anyway). So I don't need to own it.