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A Bookworm's Dilemma

What to do when you're overwhelmed by your love of books?

Here's the thing: I'm looking to get rid of most of the books that I own.  This is not, however, a simple task.  Nor is it a painless one.  I don't have just one or two boxes; I come with the lifetime collection of a bookworm, writer, and graduate student in literature.  That adds up to, as one friend faced with helping me move said, a s**tload of books.

If you are not a lover of books, then you'll think I'm making a big deal out of no deal.  Give 'em away, I can hear you say, or throw them out.  If you are a lover of books, on the other hand, you're probably squirming in anticipated pain at even the idea of divesting yourself of your precious books.  If you are a lover of books, then you know that each of them has meaning for us. They’re not just dead wood pulp with inked words on them.  They are the repositories of memories of time and placewhere was I when I read that book?  What was I doing?  What was my mood, my stage in life? 

For years, whenever I got a new book of any kind, I would write my name on the flyleaf followed by the city and year.  If nothing else, that was a memory prompt to why I bought that book and what place its contents had in my life.  My books are, then, the artifacts of my life. Getting rid of them at some level feels like abandoning pieces of myself.

And yet, my books are a drag on me. There are too many of them. When I moved here from Los Angeles, I brought with me the contents of six overstuffed Ikea bookcases. I don’t know how many cartons they filled; I do know that most of the cartons are still in my garage here. Gathering dust. Being read by no one.  

I want to get rid of them, but I choke on deciding how to do it. I want them to go to good homes, to people who will care for them as I did. Barring that, I want them to serve some greater good. Can you see the psychodynamic underpinnings here? I can, and it is why I must get rid of them.

The Sacramento Library appreciates donations of books, but according to their website, “the truth is that we are not able to sell all of the books donated to us.”  They want books in good condition, that are not marked up or dirty or torn. Immediately, I start to worry about whether my books are sufficiently pristine. I’m a neat reader; I tend not to crack bindings or leave food stains on the pages, but there are those identifying name, city and date markings on the flyleafs. I could ink them out with a thick black Magic Marker, but that would entail going through all of the boxes and dealing with each book, one by one.  Already I’m exhausted.

I recently read about Little Free Libraries: people create their own libraries on their front yards.  Some are just a box; some are miniature houses. All operate on the honor system of “Take a book; bring a book back,” and there’s a website that will help you get started.  I love the idea of that, of people coming to my front lawn and picking out a book or two to take and read. The problem with that is I don’t want them to bring the books back. 

So maybe what I want to create is a Little Free Bookstore.  But my daydream of that is immediately interrupted by the nightmare of some unscrupulous entrepreneur cleaning my library out in the dead of the night and selling my books for a profit.

Maybe I ought to just bite the bullet and sell them myself?  I’ve tried that a couple of times.  I’m actually enrolled as a Barnes & Noble reseller, but I think I’ve had one sale in the several years I’ve been listed.

So many options; so many “yes, buts...”  Once again, it just seems easier to do nothing. Which is what I do every time I try to tackle this job. Nothing. It seems to me that the bullet I have to bite is to quit seeing my books as parts of me and start looking at them as just a lot of dead wood pulp with inked letters on it. Can I do that? I don’t know, Dr. Freud, can I?

Is there anything in your life that you feel about the way I feel about my books? Tell us in the comments.

John Hughes April 25, 2012 at 08:16 PM
For many years I put books on shelves as trophies. I had difficulty reading as a youth and finishing a book was always a struggle. It didn't help that my mother was a voracious reader who couldn't understand why I didn't enjoy reading. It just wasn't easy for me. Even as an adult who eventually became a newspaper editor, books on the shelf remained collections of merit badges, framed on display and organized by topic. Today I read books on my Kindle. It's been years since I added a physical book to my shelves. Now all of those trophies on the shelf have become something else, something I'd like to give away. Perhaps a garage sale would work. Maybe even a block-party sale where everyone is invited to bring something to sell. But I hesitate because I know not every book would be wanted. Many would end up tossed into the paper recycling bin. I just can’t abide the thought of books being reincarnated as paper towels is troubling.
Nikki Phipps April 25, 2012 at 09:07 PM
Jane, what type of books do you have? Mostly reference or do you have any romance or fiction books that you would like to part with?
Felicia Mello April 25, 2012 at 09:27 PM
When I returned to California after two years in New York, I mailed several boxes of books bulk rate. One of them never arrived. It contained some of my most beloved books, including signed copies from authors I knew personally and others, like a worn paperback version of the Autobiography of Malcolm X, that I'd had since high school. I still yearn for them.
Jayne Martin April 25, 2012 at 10:39 PM
I felt that away about my books and about my collection of LPs from the 60s & 70s -- the great rock groups -- Jefferson Airplane, Creedance, Cream... I had them all. But I was downsizing to a one-room cottage and had even sold my turntable. I picked out just the number that I could still fit on the bottom shelf of my bookcase (previously inhabited by World Book) and donated the rest to a local thrift shop. As for the books, I had to be brutal in getting rid of those, too. Fortunately, a local church has a yearly book sale. Now all my new books come via my e-reader. I'll always prefer an actual book, but at least this way I can have and keep as many as I want.
Mark Paxson April 26, 2012 at 02:51 AM
I periodically purge the books I keep around the house. Now that my kids are getting older and reading more and more, there are so many of those books I eliminated from my collection that I wish I still had to hand off to them.
Jane Gassner April 26, 2012 at 05:53 PM
John, Me too, me too, me too. Maybe we need a support group.
Jane Gassner April 26, 2012 at 05:55 PM
Nikki, Lots of fiction, some reference on writing and psychology, lots of lit crit. No romance. Unless you count Jane Austen and the Brontes as romance writers. They were the originals, I think.
smm April 26, 2012 at 10:31 PM
I have too many books too. Plus the kids books my son has outgrown but that I loved reading with him.
Don Mattes April 28, 2012 at 12:32 PM
i have the same problem. Once I've invested the time to read a book, I feel like each book is a part of me and throwing it our or even giving it away is like an amputation. One solution is to dump the junk. Many of my books were purchased in airport book shops precisely because they are amusing junk, typically detective mysteries or spy thrillers, whose only pupose was too kill time on a long plane ride. I pick it up, read a few pages, realize that it's not a keeper and out it goes. Once in a while, if I am staying in a country in for a couple of days, I take a couple of these books with me and leave them on the Inn's bookshelf. Of course, I leave with a couple of other books, also junk; but least I've broken even. i don't own any more books. Much harder to deal with is my freshman physics book from college. It is certain that I will never use it again because I can not longer understand it. Nonetheless, sentences are underlined, I've written notes in the margins in a handwriting I now barely recognize and important formulae have boxes drawn around them with a red pencil. Giving up thiis book means giving up part of my youth. So, it sits there on the shelf with all the other college books. Iit will never be opened again. My heirs will toss it and wonder what peculiar reason caused me to keep it for so many years.
Jane Gassner April 28, 2012 at 04:01 PM
Felicia, And you probably will yearn for them to your dying day. And look for them on the dusty shelves of used bookstores. And maybe find one! That would be a treasure.
Jane Gassner April 28, 2012 at 04:03 PM
Jayne, You are my role model in the purging for a move department. And yes, all my new books come via my e-reader so that I never have to deal with this quandy again. That is--once I deal with it this time.
Jane Gassner April 28, 2012 at 04:04 PM
Mark, See, regret will get you every time!
Jane Gassner April 28, 2012 at 04:05 PM
smm, I guess it's a common issue, at least for those of us who are readers. It just occurred to me that all the years I spent pitying non-readers are coming back to bite me in the butt.
Jane Gassner April 28, 2012 at 04:08 PM
Don, Several years ago I started reading mysteries only as ebooks (on my Palm Pilot, not less) because they are the junk books in my mind. So what I'm moaning about here are all the keepers. And I can top your college physics book story (which was so telling!): I still have a couple of books from when we were in 5th grade. I feel especially sentimental about them!
Wanita Zimmerman June 05, 2012 at 09:18 PM
The Elk Grove Library and Friends of the Sacramento Public Library are always looking for all kinds of books for their book sales. This is a wonderful way to support our local library and know that your books are going to someone who will enjoy them. Wanita Zimmerman

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