saying goodbye to old friends


words_mean_more_than_you_think_smaller-finalLike it or not, the time has come to go through all my books again and decide what’s going out and what I’m going to keep.

I’ve read the how-to’s. I know I have to decide whether or not I’m ever going to read each book again, whether I love it enough to keep it, and worse yet, whether I’ll ever get around to reading it if I bought it for future reading and never got around to it.

Then come the decisions about where the purged books will go.

As I look around me at my once-again overflowing library, I’m struck by how many books I must have read over the sixty-five years that I’ve been a reader.

free-wallpaper-finalI’ve been religiously purging books every few years, and my mind boggles when I look at what’s in front of me and then add in all the books contained in those many previous purges.

If I had banked the money I spent on each of those thousands of books, I’d likely be a multi-millionaire by now.  But oh, how much poorer I would be in every other way!

A couple of years back I started buying and reading ebooks because when the day comes that I have to move into a smaller place, I probably won’t have room for my collection of physical books any longer.  As a result, I now own several hundred ebook titles in addition to my hard copy books.

It’s true that there’s a certain gluttonous satisfaction in seeing a book you like and having it there on your iPad or cell phone for your reading pleasure at the touch of a finger.

Ebooks are wonderful for reading on buses or trains, or waiting in doctors’ offices, or any other time-intensive activity where a book or two would come in handy.  No longer do I have to make sure I pack the prerequisite (and heavy) four or five books when I travel.  I just toss in my iPad and I’m set to go.

eating_one_potato_chip-finalHowever, no matter how convenient ebooks may be, they don’t for one moment replace for me the pleasure of sitting with a physical book in my hand, feeling the heft of the thing, looking at the ideas spread out over its pages, the smell of the paper, the ease of going back to find a particular passage again.  There’s nothing else like it.  If that makes me a Luddite, then so be it.

Furthermore, ebook prices have been creeping up to the point where it can actually be cheaper to buy the paper version second-hand.  I’m also a library borrower, and I borrow books regularly.  Even then, there’s something about having the books you love at your fingertips for a quick reread in the middle of a sleepless night, for instance, that a library just can’t replace.

I know books are only objects.  Nevertheless, I find them really difficult to let go of.  It never seems to get easier.

Books, you see, are precious to me. All that collective wisdom, and I’m the beneficiary. How lucky can one person be?

756263-books-wallpaper_1_40-smaller-borderAs I glance over my bookshelves, I can see various ages and stages of my life laid out in front of me, literary passions that ran through my blood like wildfire so that I bought every book I could find on a subject or by a particular author, explorations of mind, body and spirit, books that cracked me into laughter, books that made me cry, self-help books of every variety, fine literature, and some of my favourite mind candy.

In spite of the many culls I’ve had to do in my life, there were always keepers, and they’re all laid out before my eyes as I glance over the titles.

Ah well, enough prattling. It’s time to get to work.


book-cull-final-versionI’ve just unloaded my first bookcase, a 6.5 foot tall set of twelve packed shelves. I’ve picked through every last book and made piles of keepers, another small pile headed for Goodwill, and a larger pile of perhaps fifty books so far, destined for the library. The books I’m donating to the library are in pristine condition, and hopefully they’ll be pleased to acquire them.

I’ve sorted my keepers into some fifteen piles according to subject – seeing some of  these old friends again has been just like Christmas morning! – and some others have been apportioned out to various friends, for delivery or pickup after the weekend.

When I started going through the books, I couldn’t believe how difficult it was.  This must be what hoarders feel when they see their belongings getting thrown out of their living spaces. Bereft, that’s the word. I can cull just about anything else in my house without thinking twice about it, but this was painful, probably because I will be trying not to restock at the rate I’ve always added new books on in the past.

photo-via-visualhunt-finalThe job, however, had to be done, so I decided to concentrate on how much benefit the books I’m giving away will be to the people or institutions I’m giving them to, rather than on how much I’m giving up.

This new attitude cheered me up considerably, and now I’m quite happy that pieces of my precious collections will be going to new owners, to be appreciated all over again.

Next morning:

Elder Son and his lovely wife came to dinner tonight with our grandson, and surprisingly, there was talk of a desire for new books to read.  Aha, an opportunity to supply the demand!

After dinner, we all trooped downstairs into the havoc that used to be my office and had a look at the various piles covering the floor.  It looked like a rummage sale in there, and judging by the number of books they went away with, everyone seemed to enjoy themselves.

Photo via Visual Hunt

By the time they were finished, my “To Go” piles had diminished considerably, along with several of my keepers (newly reassigned as “BORROWED” and “TO BE RETURNED”).  I’m delighted, because it means some of my books are still in the family and so can be re-borrowed from time to time.  I love it when this happens!

Final note:

Surprisingly, only one book was a throwaway.  It was partially eaten by Younger Son’s dog Lyko, who visited us a few days ago.  He’s a teenager and entirely full of himself, so he has to be watched or he’ll snatch anything he can get into his mouth.   He seems rather fond of books in general (no surprise there; it runs in the family, after all), and in the case of that particular book, he appeared to have enjoyed it very much.

I can certainly appreciate that; in fact, I rather enjoyed the book myself.  So now it’s gone to that great recycling plant in the sky, already replaced with a lovely second-hand copy that should arrive in a couple of days.

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose, n’est ce pas?



[Featured Image Photo Credit:  Fondos Gratis]


  1. Bear is very curious about the title of the book Lyko chose to chew. She chewed up one book last year as a child and neither of us remember the title.

    The most melancholy thing about divesting myself of books when I moved two years ago was saying goodbye to a person I once was, one who had acquired those books. There were also books given me by students that I will never read but I couldn’t part with the inscriptions. And there are the 35 journals… I know I should just take a deep breath and throw them in the trash, but I haven’t been able to take that breath yet, even though I know that I never want anyone but me to see them. This book thing is difficult 😦

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  2. It sure is! It helps me if I think of giving them away to other enthusiastic readers rather than being forced to discard them, which makes me grumpy and sad.

    Lyko apparently found “On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Non-Fiction,” by William Zinsser, too yummy to pass up. I had put it down for two minutes, and that’s all it took for the Big Fella to make short work of it. He’s a lovely dog, but he’s full of beans these days, so it was my own fault for leaving it so handy with not a soul in sight. 🙂

    Anyway, it only took me a few minutes to find it on Amazon and re-order it, so all’s well and I’m a happy camper again.

    Journals; at least they’re more stackable than books, don’t you find? And they’re easy to pile on a bottom shelf somewhere. Like you, I have some “memento” books too, and they’ll be with me to the bitter end, even if I have to keep them stacked on my bedside table for the rest of my days!

    Thanks for the note, Martha. ❤


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