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Saturday, July 24, 2010

Book Purging--Rules and a Method to My Madness

Before I start, I must tell you of my decades-long history with books. Okay, I will give the short version. I have loved books since I was a toddler. I remember my desire to get another book, wanting to hold onto them, and have my mother read them to me repeatedly. Eventually, they were all destroyed by the next four children in the family.

When I was eleven, I wanted a bookcase. My mother bought one at Goodwill, and I put my half dozen books there. The bookcase went with me to college, holding weighty tomes. Now, it sits in my home, having been with me for over fifty years.

Right now I have seven bookcases, all stuffed with books. Some books are behind others, flat against the back of the bookcase. Others lie on top of rows of books. It is okay that some of my books are in small or large stacks elsewhere and not in the bookcase.

That was my attitude until recently—books could live anywhere. But, due to having to remove things from other rooms into rooms housing bookcases and stacks of books, I decided to see exactly what I really NEEDED to keep and what I WANTED to keep. Looking with a critical eye was necessary.

For many years I have bought interesting looking books at yard sales and thrift stores. Since I joined The Compact and heard of this method, I had been ridding my house of ten items a day, I thought that I could see the difference eventually. (Okay, I lie. I purge for a month and skip three months.) Nope! Not happening! I devised my own plan to help me de-clutter. My question to myself: what can I do and see the most difference. Instead of just randomly choosing ten items a day, I chose to get rid of ten books a day for a week. None are put in my trash. All are given to individuals or a thrift store. I trust none will go into the trash when I donate.

I have kept books bought when I was attending universities, acquiring two B.A.s, one in English and another in Social and Behavioral Sciences. Then, I worked on the M.A. in English and finished my masters in education, M.Ed. Since I love to read and investigate most areas, I bought extensively from the colleges’ bookstores during these years.

Yard sales are a rich source of cheap books. So, I indulged. Library sales draw me in and I can barely walk out because of books buy. Then, there are the all too familiar caches of free books, often at the end of regular sales.

You must realize I have lots of books! I counted years ago and I had over 1000. Considering what I am finding during this purge, I suppose I had over 2,000 books.

Okay, now to how I made decisions. If anyone else had done this for me, they would have made entirely different decisions. Anyone else doing this for me would have kept ALL classics, regardless of condition. Many classics are gone.

I realized I was never going to get around to the autobiographies of old movie stars. They all went. However, I kept my rare copies of Hollywood Babylon.

I had owned my copy of Lord of the Flies since I was a teen. Some books were disintegrating because of age. They went. Anything replaceable that was hazardous to my health had to go bye, bye. Bye, Bye, Lord of the Flies.

What do I have that I can find again? What do I have that is not likely available? I kept Rats, Flies, Lice, and History and got rid of Hamlet. Okay, I know that seems insane. But, consider this—where will I ever find the gross-sounding book and how easily can I find a copy of Hamlet? Besides, I consider the former to be research material. Most of my classics in paperback are gone. I kept Word Origins and a dictionary of synonyms and got rid of Bret Hart.

What is the condition of the book? Any paperback that was a classic and 50 years old was just sitting there, happily making book dust. My allergies do not appreciate these books’ subversive activities. Torn backs or ratty books don’t necessarily make the cut and leave me. Makers of dust leave.

What am I not likely to read? I am not likely to read anything making dust. I am not likely to read Gloria Gaither’s book, never opened, never read, never blemished. And, the dust cover is in pristine condition. I bought it used to give away. I did not! Why? I don’t know.

Was the book a textbook? This is a thorny question. If it were for English classes, TESOL, or Sociology, I keep it. If the text is for history, math, or computer science, the book cannot live here any longer.

Is this dictionary relevant today? Well, probably not, since it is seventy-five years old. These old dictionaries were invaluable to me since I often compared them to modern dictionaries. Sadly, I release all but two of my dictionaries. My 1902 copy of the almanac goes away. While it may be relevant to someone, it’s not relevant to me.

Does this book serve any purpose? While I believe the answer is “yes” to all books, I am thinking of particular books. I buy at yard sales multiple copies of things like Night and The Pearl so that I can share with others. My grandson in high school can benefit from these. NO MORE. I am just giving up temporarily on the idea of buying for others. When all is settled, I can look for particular books he needs.

One exception to any rule—was it a copy of a book that I used for a class and made notes on the pages? Okay, Walden stays, along with all the other class copies of classics with class notes.

Another exception to the rule—anything that was bought for a class and is not a textbook is kept. Here, I am thinking of The Awakening and Our Bodies, Ourselves.

Sex, Drugs, and Rock and Roll stays. It just does!

For seven weeks I have gotten rid of 10 books per day. Maybe, I am a third of the way through, just maybe. In order to finish the job I may ramp this purge up to 20 per day. Just devoting one day to books is another idea I have had since this third week came screeching to a halt.

Week 8 starts with 10 books a day, banished from the house.

This purging is a revolutionary act for me. Friends cannot believe I am getting rid of one book, much less hundreds. Really, they all outlived their purpose in my life or threaten my allergies. It is a relief to finally see books I bought at least three years ago that never even came out of the bag once I came home. I forgot about these.

There are about six gems that will fetch money from antiquarian book dealers. Actually, that is why I purchased them. I had no intention of reading these. Purging will be profitable on many levels. I give to individuals. I donate to charity. I rid my house of dust-makers. I will make a bit of profit!

My love of books has not diminished. My choice of what to keep has changed. I have looked with a properly critical eye and bid some cherished books “goodbye.” I have no regrets.

Update: My daughter called and said my grandson needs two books I took to the thrift store two weeks ago. No, they are gone and I cannot repurchase them! Isn’t that the way it always happens?

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