25 Feb 2012

Culling the bookshelves

Our book rearranging is coming on well.  We've just about finished the children's literature shelves in the new Reading Room, and I'm currently working on the far less desirable task of putting the decimated Study shelves back together.  There are just so many titles that have no home.  Where do you put a book on friendship, for example, or another on the history of our old home town?  Do picture books of poems go under poetry or kid's books, and what do you do if the book in question is too tall for either shelf?

It is little surprise, therefore, that the photos I've chosen to illustrate today's post are of the Sitting Room shelves, which required very little arranging in the current reshuffle, and still look relatively okay, rather than the shelves that are causing me so much trouble. 

So, these shelves contain our Design books.  Here you'll find books on interior design and decoration, Asian textiles, Japan and the Wabi Sabi aesthetic, hotel design, craft and gardening.  You'll also find a collection of Time Life books on Myths and Fables of the World because they don't fit anywhere else.  You can click the photos to read the spines if you want to, which you will if you're anything like me.

Do you cull your books? It may come as a surprise to you to discover that I do.


There are, of course, some tomes whose life on my shelves is pretty much assured until...well...until my death anyhow, but there are other publications that don't get onto those same shelves in the first place:

Trashy novels - unless they're hardbacks, when they may get a bit of a reprieve, at least for a while. The kind of twaddly junk that Mr PD and I consume on aeroplanes and whilst lying on the beach is never likely to be read again. Mostly they don't even find space in the suitcase on the trip home. Occasionally we might get rid of something we regret this way, but rarely, and it is always possible to purchase it again, if you're sorry for too long.

Fashionable cookery books. A quality 'how-to' book, like The Joy of Cooking or Stephanie Alexander's The Cook's Companion or David Thompson's Thai Food has a life longer than most, but a book containing the latest and greatest will be incredibly passé after five or ten years. Look at your old cook books carefully to decide if they deserve the shelf space. Some will - I love my old copy of Charmaine Solomon's The Complete Asian Cookbook and vastly prefer it to her new updated version of the same book because it was written at a time when Asian ingredients were difficult to come by, and her suggested alternatives still made a tasty and authentic dish.

Design books fit into the same category. With a few exceptions, interior design books have a life of ten or so years. Pink and blue were replaced by blue and yellow were replaced by taupe and grey. Once gone, chuck the handbook.

Travel guide books don't even get on to my shelves once we arrive home. They live for a while in a milk crate until all the photos have been labelled, and then out they go. Within a year they will be obsolete, and if I ever go to that same place again I'll purchase another up-to-date copy.

Magazines.  I rarely keep magazines.  I did have a full set of Donna Hay, but they were destroyed in the flood.  I also keep my Kateigaho mags on Japanese art and culture.  Other mags stay in the magazine rack for a while and are then donated to the nearest waiting room.  Sometimes I keep a title or ten for a while while I'm working on a special project, but inevitably I get sick of them and out they go.

Parenting books about a certain stage your kids are going through. Once they're through and if you've all survived, chuck 'em or pass them on to another parent facing the same issues. Mostly a new and better advice book will be available by then anyhow. I really will never need to know what to expect when I'm expecting ever again.

Text books that do not fall into the Living Book category. I will never need a third grade maths book again, but one of my homeschooling friends might. Pass it on or sell it.

Certain books will be forever special. I never cook now from Cuisine of the Sun written by Roger Vergé back in 1978, but it will forever remind me of the enchantment of my first three star Michelin meal at his restaurant, Le Moulin de Mougins on the French Riviera.It will always be special to me. A small esoteric title, Arabic for Hospital Staff, remains, tucked up on the highest shelf, rubbing shoulders with an old Odyssey Guide to Guizhou Province in south-west China. So many memories are hidden in the pages of both of these worn and unassuming little books.

Every year my library grows by a metre or two, and so culling for me is a constant and necessary process. I will probably never want to get rid of that Aussie classic, but lots of the others have a definite life span.

It is no secret that I love books. There is no doubt that my library will continue to grow throughout my life. And as my collection grows, there will always be a need to weed out those titles that are taking up the valuable space that is needed for something else.

The books that you chose to keep will be different for all, but the books that I've listed here will always be consumable for me. And if I'm wrong, then a new copy is as close as the library.

Do you cull different books from me? What funny little treasures get a place on your shelf just because they're special to you? Do share.


  1. When I read your post heading I literately had a physical response, my stomach contracted, I flinched. However you are correct, our books do need a regular pruning, yes that is the word. Pruning my Book Garden:) cutting back the dead growth so the beauties get to bloom.

  2. I don't buy cook books or home decoration books ~ unless they are of the hippie sort depicting really unusual & original houses. Those I love & the few I have I have had for 30 odd years & am likely to keep.

    I do cull; stuff I bought & have never got past the first few pages; stuff that has been given to me because You're a reader; stuff I've just plain outgrown & won't reread.

  3. Don't worry, my booky friend. I will never throw away something that will distress you. Promise.

    Do you need a ten year old copy of What to expect when you're Expecting? Or a Lonely Planet guide to North Korea?

  4. Even though I am a book lover I also cull. About 4 years ago I culled 8 shopping bags and sent them off to the Lifeline Book fair. However since then I have bought more, so I still have the same amount of books. I never through books in the bin, always take them somewhere for others to love. I know longer have an baby books or things along similar lines. I give books to others if think they are better suited! I don't keep magazines, I give them away to other people.

  5. Lol I want a Lonely Planet guide to North Korea!

  6. Once upon a time I would have said, "I never cull".
    In fact, I believe I did say it to the question of "How?"
    And I said "You cant. Its a case of collect or die."

    All that to get to the point of saying that I have actually died - or the messie in me has taken a very nasty knock on the head - for I have in fact parted with, oh, perhaps half of the books that were in my house.

    That is to say, they have left my home, but not my property. They wait patiently to depart for good in dribs and drabs - being sold (in support of a good cause) at our homeschool sport group.

    But not fast enough.

    Any book collectors want to come browse my way?

  7. I cull a little...at least I box them up with the intent of selling them or passing them on, but sometimes they make their way back onto my shelves! I intend to hang on to quite a few favourite childrens books. In fact I have several copies of different ones as I would love to give each of my children certain titles once they are grown and starting their own families. I can't seem to resist second hand copies of Bread and Jam with Frances, or Richard Scarry's Busy Busy World. Of course my older children are now collecting their own books too!

  8. packed up and sent 1000 books to phillipines I packed prep to grade 4 readers blank workbooks textbooks and art supplies in clear thick plastic (in there grades) and our church paid the shipping all went to a new school that openned with -wait for it -beginners to grade 4 they will grow by grades each year after (duel language) the shipping is expensive but without this help they would have had nothing and at that stage I NEVER parted with a book so I had everything -something to think about third world children rarely have a book


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