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How many books are too many books?

Posted on May 9, 2014 in Uncategorized | 7 Comments

I am tempted to say that you can’t have too many books, but that is patently not true, unless you are the British Library, or the Library of Congress or some other copyright library. I don’t know how many my husband and I have, but it must run into quite a few thousand. Every time I try to estimate it, my head begins to swim. Let’s just say we have nine walls of books and that two of those are long walls, one in a corridor and one along the wall of an attic. We are both academics, and over the years have amassed collections of books on our subjects: architecture for my husband, art history and literature for me. I started off with an English degree and still have all my text books, including an Anglo-Saxon primer. That’s before we get on to contemporary fiction of almost every kind, particularly crime novels.
      I know really that most of the academic books I own won’t be opened again – I am not planning to write another book on the Arthurian legends – but it’s hard to get rid of them. I feel about books what my mother felt about clothes. She grew up during rationing when new clothes weren’t easy to come by and loved to trawl the charity shops for bargains. Books were the same for me: desirable commodities that had to be carefully budgeted for. I haven’t got over their relative cheapness these days and go on snapping them up in charity shops and second-hand bookshops. Truth to tell, it goes against the grain to leave a bookshop without a book.
       Recently we’ve run out of shelf space again and my husband is talking about making some more. But I have been thinking that maybe it’s not more shelves that we need, but fewer books: heretical thought!  Ebooks have helped a bit. Some of the books that would be otherwise on the shelves are stored on my ereader or in cyberspace. But if I really, really like something, I want a hard copy, so they still accumulate. Perhaps the answer is to institute a ‘one in, one out’ policy. Or maybe to chose one every day to go to the Oxfam shop or to give to a friend. My dear friend Carola used to be ruthless about this and have periodic culls. Maybe I should do the same.
     I’d love to know how other people manage.
  

7 Comments

  1. Martin Edwards
    May 10, 2014

    This is a constant dilemma, isn’t it? I’ve seen your walls of books – magnificent sight! After a loft conversion and shelving the cellar, I’m still short of space. But still I find the lure of books irresistible…

    Reply
  2. Clothes In Books
    May 11, 2014

    Oh I know, I know. For years I never got rid of books, but I have become a lot more ruthless now. My theory is that I’m now in the 2nd half of my life, and I can realistically predict if I will need all these books again. And now, can look things up on the internet (so no need to hang on to random non-fiction) and Kindle is helping. Linda Grant has just written a Kindle Single on this – very entertaining and I’m sure, like me, you will recognize much that she says…

    Reply
  3. Christine
    May 12, 2014

    Great to hear from you both. In my own case it would help if I found time to reorganise. Have actually find myself acquiring something that I already owned. Doubt if I will ever get my husband to part with much.

    Reply
  4. Anonymous
    May 21, 2014

    My father, who was a mystery writer, started culling his huge book collection when he was in his seventies, and always did it when my mother was away from their house for a few hours, so she wouldn’t stop him. He’d pack up a pile of books and put them out on the front sidewalk in a carton and sell the lot for whatever anyone offered. You can imagine my mother’s horror when she found that he had sold some of their first editions, including some John Steinbeck signed titles. My father’s explanation was that he was being buried in “stuff” and needed to feel lighter. So if you have to get rid of books, make sure you have control of the process!

    Reply
  5. Christine
    May 21, 2014

    What a terrible story! It made me think of Frank Kermode, who packed up his books for the removers and they were taken by the rubbish collectors instead.

    Reply
  6. galant
    May 24, 2014

    I have got to that stage when I’m re-buying books I had and parted with!
    Margaret Powling

    Reply
  7. Christine
    May 25, 2014

    In my case, buying copies of books that I’ve lent and not got back.

    Reply

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