The Art of Culling

Jessie: Turning up the heat and watching the leaves flutter to the ground.

books-1260734_1920As the weather has turned cooler I’ve been spending a lot of time in my office lately. All through the summer I work on a porch where the breezes bring the smell of salt air and the sound of beachgoers to my nose and ears. It is a spare sort of a space with a desk in the chair and a great many windows. There is room for my sticky notes and a pencil cup and one small, slim bookshelf. But come fall, I returned to my entirely indoor office space where the clutter threatens to overwhelm me if I don’t beat it back. There are houseplants and stationary and important files. There are also shelves and shelves of books.

Some time ago I  promised myself I would not increase the number of bookshelves in my home. Under any circumstances. Instead, I decided I would be ruthless in culling my collection. Mostly I feel it has worked out okay. Many books that I read our pleasant the first time through better ones I feel happy to pass along to others without any thought to their return.

Other books are more difficult. Some are reference books which I find I turn to frequently enough to resist releasing them out into the world. I have a fear that they will contain just the nugget I needed as soon as they are no longer in my office. And then, there are those works of fiction that I find I love to re-read.

There are the Agatha Christies, the Mary Stewarts, the EF Benson and PG Woodhouse novels. Books by Alice Peters, Charlotte MacLeod, Annie Proulx, Garrison Keillor, Martha Grimes stared me down every time my hand hovers over their spines considering the unthinkable. Somehow I’ve managed to stick to my rule even though I seem to continually add new books to my home. What I promised myself was that I would not buy more bookshelves. I did not decide to use them in a strictly Orthodox manner.

At this point the  books can best be described as double parked. I’ve managed to convince myself I’m still considering whether or not to keep certain books when I stack them in front of those permanently shelved. Other books I place on top of the neat rows like little hats  or rooves. I always think they look slightly jaunty perched atop the others, like cardinals balancing on bare tree branches.  And much like those pretty winter birds, I find those extra books cheer my  office landscape. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Readers, do you have trouble culling your books? Do you re-read or immediately pass things along to others? Writers, do you have trouble letting go of reference materials?

About Jessie Crockett

Jessie Crockett wears a lot of hats, both literally and literarily. As Jessie Crockett she is the Daphne Award winning author of Live Free or Die and the nationally bestselling Sugar Grove series. As Jessica Ellicott she has received starred reivews from Publishers Weekly and Library Journal for her historical mystery Murder in an English Village. As Jessica Estevao she writes the Agatha Award nominated Change of Fortune Mysteries. She loves the beach, fountain pens, Mini Coopers and throwing parties. She lives in northern New England where she obsessively knits wool socks and enthusiastically speaks Portuguese with a shocking disregard for the rules of grammar.
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4 Responses to The Art of Culling

  1. Talk about timing! I spent yesterday culling the TBR pile, part two (stashed in the back bedroom closet). Last week, I did the same for those in my computer room. The pile being freed exceeds 170 books with our daughter Lisa getting first shot an any her 4th graders in the Bronx might want. The rest will be offered to a group of school and public libraries around the state. Even after that weed, I still have at least 250 left as well as an 8 page list of those I want to borrow from other libraries. Pretty crazy, eh?

  2. kaitlynkathy says:

    I try to weed things out on a regular basis, but it doesn’t work very well. There are quite a few reference books I’ve thought I’d never need again, only to end up buying another copy on Amazon Marketplace. Makes me wonder if I just bought back the same copy. As for novels, I do a little better there because for the last few years I’ve read fiction, mostly, on my iPad, but the oldies but goodies? Those are hard to part with, especially since, every once in a while, I do reread, bingeing on a favorite author’s books.

  3. Lea Wait says:

    I regularly divest myself of books, to used bookstores and libraries. But not the reference books in my study … or the books I’ve used for reference in my historicals. (They fill bookcases in another room.) My husband needs his books on artists and art history, of course. And … you’re right. I haven’t even mentioned the cartons in the attic or the 19th century books that used to be in my antiques business, or the nonfiction that turned my dining room into a library. And with an artist husband, I have paintings hung in front of many books. Took a while for me to deal with that — but so it is. On the other hand — floor to ceiling bookcases (which are in every room in my house) are great insulation against Maine winters, and they make my home eel like … home. So, yes — some book have to move on every year. But, I’m afraid, at least for now, now a demonstrable number.

  4. Barbara Ross says:

    This is very timely since I just ordered bookshelves for my new study in Portland. They’ll be here mid-November and I know there will be hard decisions to make when they come. The room is wonderfully light with two walls of windows–but that means less wall space for books. In my old study I did have some books “double parked” as you say. I’m trying to avoid that this time. But the complete collections of my favorite authors, those have to stay.

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