Thursday, February 28, 2008

Confessions of a book trasher

From a Time article on "The Unabridged Laws of Library Management":

RULE #1: THE PRIME DIRECTIVE -- It is unacceptable to display any book in a public space of your home if you have not read it. Therefore, to be placed on Matt Selman's living room bookshelves, a book must have been read cover to cover, every word, by Matt Selman.

Hmm. Where do you suppose Matt Selman keep all the books he has purchased or borrowed or been gifted with but has not yet read? Stacked under the kitchen sink? And does he keep all of the books he reads, or just the ones he reads and likes?

There are a number of unread books in my living room bookcases. There are also quite a few books I have begun but have been unable to finish, although I will try again one day because I suspect I'll be glad to have read them. Moby Dick and the newly deceased Bill Buckley's Brothers No More are two novels in that category.

If I love a book and believe I may read it again one day, I'll keep it. I do not keep books that I have read or skimmed and have no further use for, but I do try to find good homes for them. The way I figure it, a book that doesn't knock my socks off deserves a chance to knock somebody else's socks off. But a bad book must be punished, so into the paper-recylcling bin it goes. I never give bad books away because I don't want to play any role in promoting bad writing or what I consider to be offensive subject matter.

This morning I trashed three bad books, two of which had been sent to me, I believe, in the hope that I would mention them here on NRJW. (I gave them a glance and decided both authors were darn lucky I don't review books on this blog.) The third book was a romance novel I had to judge for Romance Writers of America's RITA contest. (On a scale of 1-10, I gave it a 2, then regretted my generosity. I wouldn't even reccommend lining a birdcage with those pages unless it could be established beyond any doubt that the bird was illiterate.)

What's your criteria for keeping and discarding books?


Brittanie said...

I keep books I loved and will reread. I love to reread books. I have read the O'Malley series by Dee Henderson several times. I also keep books that I want to give away. Sometimes though not recently I would give some to a used bookstore. I have only thrown one or two directly in the trash and I do not even remember the titles.

Maria Zannini said...

Not long ago I came to the conclusion that I have NO MORE ROOM in my house. I have switched to e-books when I can and only buy print books if the author can blow me away in the first few pages.

The print books I've accumulated have gone on to libraries and women's shelters. Only a few well-loved novels, nonfiction, and a 2B-Read stack of books remain on my shelves now.

Katie Hart - Freelance Writer said...

I have - dare I say it - too many books. The fifty feet of shelf space in my room does double duty as books are shoved on top and stacked sideways, and still the books pile onto the dresser, the chest at the bottom of the bed, and the sewing machine. Several boxes have found their way down to the basement, but the inflow never lets up.

If I love a book, I'll keep it. If I like a book and plan to reread it, I'll keep it. If I like a book and don't plan to reread it, I'll gift or sell it (unless it's part of a set - I sort my books by author and series and love having all of an author's books). If I don't like a book, I'll sell it.

Increasingly, the books in my room are unread, which makes the decision about keeping or discarding much harder. If I've read and loved other books by the author, it's a definite keeper. If the genre/premise intrigues me, it's a keeper. Other than that, though, the books sit in a state of limbo until I decide to read them, or need a gift.

I hate throwing away books though, unless there is something morally wrong with them.

Katie Alender said...

I'm slowly culling my supersized book collection. I started by picking books I'd either read and disliked or tried to read and set down without the slightest intention of ever picking them back up... Next wave, I think, will be books that will never be unavailable from the library.

Robin Bayne said...

Well I am glad I'm not alone in having too many books in my house. I recently began donating them to charity, plus I take them in to my coworkers. It's rare that I recycle any of them-- I always assume someone else might have different taste and like a book I did not.

Anonymous said...

When we moved a couple of years back, I donated a ton of books to the library, and I assume they put them in their book sale. Later, though, I found out that I can sell some of my stuff on Amazon, and the rest I list on paperbackswap (now not just paperbacks).


Anonymous said...

I'm pretty sure I have NO criteria for culling books. I must have over a thousand, and here's the thing. I do reread books a lot, but there are lots I know I'll never want to read again. But I keep them because I vaguely suspect they might have some research value someday.

Case in point: a book I read once and didn't dislike, but didn't love, about the early Christian church (a novel). I thought I had given it away ages ago, and then earlier this year (I write Biblical historical fiction) I find myself writing about, you guessed it, the early church, and I thought, "I could reread that novel now ... I'd pick up some nice details about food, clothes, atmosphere, etc." Then I went into a panic because I didn't have it anymore. Then I looked around and found I did have it. Sigh of relief.

So it's very hard to throw anything out, because as soon as I put a book in the discard bin, I can vividly imagine some future scenario like that where I'll wish I still had it. Which is why we are eventually going to have to move out and give the house to the books.

ForstRose said...

I can't manage to throw books out though I have shredded copies of manuscripts to protect the author's copyright after I have read them if the hardcopy is not being returned to the author.

I have had a couple books I disliked that I can't bring myself to toss but have no other ideas what to do with them save toss them in a box and bury them in a dark corner of a closet somewhere.

If I like the book enough to consider recommending it to others - even if it's not my thing to read - it goes on the shelf to loan to friends or if it is truly a stunner in my opinion it just might make the reread pile someday (if I ever get desperate enough for reading material that is).

In the meantime I am considering starting some sort of loaner program for friends and family so the books are at least not just sitting around collecting dust. Need to sort out the logistics on that one first though as I would be a bit obsessive about having to know who has what and making sure they return it eventually in nearly the same condition it went out (yes I would actually screen people by what state books come back in). Even most of my paperbacks still only appear gently used after I read them.

As for actually getting rid of anything if i seriously don't expect to ever reread it or want to read it because its not my type then I might take it to a used bookstore or post it on paperback swap - only problem is I can rarely unclench my grasp long enough to get rid of anything that is not a duplicate copy. I am a notorious packrat especially with my books.