I just finished doing something that I have a hard time doing, for various reasons that wind tightly down into the psyche of my Asperger’s Syndrome: cleaning books from our bookshelves. We added six books and removed twenty-one, which really represents two new books, four books replacing twelve books, and nine removals. This gives us the room we need to add another dozen or so books that have been patiently waiting.
As a child, I had to get rid of books for simple reasons: we were moving, or I’d long since passed the stage of needing picture books but I did need the shelf space. As adults, Stephanie and I have more complicated reasons for getting rid of books:
They are falling apart. These books are disintegrating, whether through lots of use or simply because they were never well put-together (I salute you in memory, my first run of The Belgariad, bought in high school as the first fruits of my labors at McDonalds). These are the easiest to deal with, because we simply place them on our wish list, purchase replacements, and swap them out.
They take up too much space. In our new house, we have a fixed amount of wall space (stupid modern construction techniques using larger windows) for book shelves. As a result, we’re now in a mode of “one comes in, one comes out.” I really dislike this, so one technique we’ve been using to get more bang for the buck is buying omnibus editions to gain back shelf space.
They are not getting read. Even though I have read every book in my library, there are some I don’t end up re-reading that often – or when I do, I discover that my skills and needs as a reader have advanced and the book no longer is a compelling part of my library. Removing these books from the collection requires a great deal of effort to overcome the inertia of nostalgia.
We purchased them second-hand, but want the author to get paid. The more I learn about the publishing industry and the more contacts I make in the author community, the more personal it becomes for me to make sure that these people are able to make a living by writing. Book sales are the best way to do that – new books, back list books, whatever.
Sometimes, we combine some of these reasons. We have recently begun to replace many of our favorite books (Eddings, Brust, Bujold, Cooper, Engdahl, Weeks, and more) with as many omnibus editions as we could. This way we replaced tattered books, gained back shelf space, and made sure the author keeps seeing royalty statements. Honestly, I wish omnibus editions were more of a thing. As we can, we’ll replace hardbacks with paperbacks (or likewise) to ensure a given series is consistent and takes the least amount of shelf space.
Tonight, I’m removing books from my collection for a much different and more painful reason: I no longer wish to support the author. I’m not going to name specific authors – the reasons for doing so are between me and Stephanie and no one else – but there are some people who are so toxic in some area of their lives that we no longer wish to support them. Although the money we spent for their books is long gone, removing those books from our shelves is a tangible way to detach our lives and fates from theirs. It helps us close the open loops in our minds that would otherwise urge us to buy their books. However, getting rid of these books sucks; it takes a lot of energy and there is/will be a mourning period. For so many years, books were my greatest friends. Getting rid of books that you have accepted into your life and given a home to feels like turning out the family pet, or possibly one of your kids.
If you think that’s a juvenile or overblown sentiment for a grown man to express, all I can say is that the concept of books and writing got wired into my soul at a very early age, and yes, sometimes books mean more to me than people. If you can’t or won’t understand that, I cordially extend to you the benison of I don’t give a shit.