August
6th 2010
Sentimental education

Posted under: book reviews

I’m a historian, and I’ve been at this gig for about fifteen years now, if you count back to when I was first paid to profess somewhere other than my graduate institution.  (Twenty if you want to count all the way back to my first year in grad school.)  I’m at the point in my life and career now where all of our bookshelves and bookcases are full, and some of them hold two full rows of books (with one row stacked right in front of the other, hiding the row behind.)  Some of my history book shelves now have books lying down horizonal on top of vertially-arranged rows.  Both of these solutions are aesthetically unattractive and/or impractical if one wants to locate a specific tome. 

Before the Google, I was usually able to find answers to most questions, large and small, the old-fashioned way by consulting my personal library.  (I don’t want to sound like Susan “mine is the greatest library in private hands in the world” Sontag here.  It’s far from that–but it has served me and my obscure interests extremely well.)  I have a pretty strong collection of important titles in my field published in the last 25 years, in additon to hundreds of obscure titles or published primary sources I’ve found in old junk shops and used book stores.  I’m particularly proud of my fairly recent acquisition of the 1977 edition of Father Lafitau’s Customs of the American Indians translated and edited by William N. Fenton and Elizabeth L. Moore.  (Mine is #656 out of the 750 published by the Champlain Society!)  So stuff like that is obviously not going in the junk pile.

Have anyof you endured a major book clean-out?  What kind of sorting criteria did you use to prune your collection?  Do you feel better, or do you constantly find yourself jumping up to find a book you sold, donated to a library, or put on the “free books” bookshelf in a hallway somewhere?  One rule:  you can’t tell me to move my books from home into my work office.  Although I have an office with many empty bookcases at Baa Ram U., I never write anything but memos, e-mails, and letters of recommendation there, so I like to keep all of my books in my home office.  Should I finally just dump those books I bought in grad school but never bothered to read, which I’ve been packing, moving, and unpacking again for the last 20 years in a perpetual act of contrition?  Or should I clean out books I’ve read but didn’t think were particularly interesting or valuable?

Here’s why I’m stuck with such a sprawling mass of books, and why I’m having trouble getting started on a clean-out:  there’s a real difference in market value between my paperback copy of (for example) Peter Wood’s Black Majority purchased in 1988 for a college class, and the Lafitau tomes–but in some books there’s a sentimental value that is nearly on a par (or even greater) with the actual value of a limited edition publication of the Champlain Society.  I have a vivid memory of the day I first read Wood’s book and was blown away by it–Spring Break 1988, on an old quilt laid out on a lawn at Haverford College on an unseasonably warm and sunny March afternoon.  It almost didn’t even feel like I was reading for a class, it was so absorbing.  I rarely consult that book, and that particular copy will have little if any value to anyone else (unless they’ve been assigned to read it for a college class).  My heirs, such as they are, won’t know about that afternoon in March 1988 and how it set me on my professional path, so hanging onto that copy will just be more work for them in the end.  But how can I give it away?

I love reading about the whole libraries that belonged to people in history–that is, usually a wealthy and subsequently famous man whose library was preserved intact (for the most part.)  If the library no longer exists, there are sometimes lists of every single book a man owned in colonial American probate records, even of very middling men.  (I once had dinner with a group of historians surrounded by Frederick Jackson Turner’s personal library, which was then in the basement of the home of his grandson, the late Jackson Turner Main and his wife, Gloria Main.  It was a memorable evening.)  I find it utterly persuasive that knowing someone’s library is a window into their soul. 

So, maybe I’m not really looking for advice.  Maybe I’ll just go shopping for another bookcase.

47 Comments »

47 Responses to “Sentimental education”

  1. Katherine on 06 Aug 2010 at 5:57 am #

    One solution to my lack of shelving is that my dad made me a platform bed which has book shelves underneath it. I want another one for the guest room this Christmas. Before I owned my own house, I’d cull every time I moved. I got rid of college books that were not in my field, then I wrote a text book and regretted that decision. Now I am on a book prize committee and have 80 book, most way outside my field, which I can’t absorb into my shelves. I’m going to give them to my library, which is under funded and run by people who think that books are unnecessary. They will be there if I should need them, and more importantly they will be there for students. I also give mediocre books I review to the library for the same reason, and bad popular history books my family gives me because I am a historian. (Fortunately they don’t read this blog, I don’t want to hurt their feelings.)

  2. Katrina on 06 Aug 2010 at 6:09 am #

    My suggestion: join bookcrossing.

    I don’t use it to get rid of history books that I may need some day, but novels which I know I won’t read again – thus freeing up some more shelf space. And I feel better distributing them that way (I could never bring myself to just throw a book, no matter how boring, into a dumpster).

  3. Dame Eleanor Hull on 06 Aug 2010 at 6:11 am #

    I can’t get rid of any books except popular ones that I didn’t like, but it does seem to me that your work office would be a good place for “those books I bought in grad school but never bothered to read, which I’ve been packing, moving, and unpacking again for the last 20 years.” My office is full of books I don’t need regularly (except for teaching copies), and all the “real” books are at home.

  4. Tony Grafton on 06 Aug 2010 at 6:12 am #

    Go for the other bookcase. I am currently moving books downstairs to the basement and around the three upstairs rooms which we have shelved, to make space for those that have been in boxes since we moved to this house five years ago. (I promised Mrs TG that the boxes would all by empty by the time the school year starts.)

    Again and again, handling individual copies–especially the ratty, most-used ones–has brought back moments of browsing and discovery in bookshops that have been gone for decades, of reading on the quads at the University of Chicago in the summer sun and in teashops in London in the summer rain, of long-forgotten arguments in seminars. Sometime in the foreseeable future–probably in 8 to 10 years–we will downsize, and the books will go off, for little or no money, with the memories that they are charged with.

    But not yet.

  5. Historiann on 06 Aug 2010 at 6:35 am #

    Dame Eleanor–that’s a decent suggestion about the books I’ve never read. That might make me look like I’m planning to stick around (after 9 years in my office! I think my colleagues think it’s awfully peculiar that all I have on the shelves are textbooks that were randomly sent to me, plus some books from retired colleagues who were clearing out their shelves.) Katherine’s plan is a smart one, too. I think I’ll feel better if I just clear out some of those impulse buys at Borders and Amazon from the past 15 years.

    I think I’ll follow Tony’s example: what’s the rush, if I’ve got just enough space for a nice 3-1/2′ by 7′ bookcase, if I move that National Geographic map of Quebec that’s just taped to the wall with masking tape. . .

  6. Lance on 06 Aug 2010 at 6:47 am #

    When I was in grad school, I remember that there was a used book store near to Union Square Park where I could trade in my old books (Medieval Political Theory?) for more relevant stuff. I’d go there weekly. Now, I cling to it all. Maybe, as you get older, everything gets saturated with nostalgia. Why do I still have Tuchman’s THE PROUD TOWER? I’ve not a clue.

    If you take an administrative job, don’t you get a second office? With new bookshelves? That was my partial solution.

    But otherwise, get a bookshelf. Or hire a carpenter to build something custom. And, my goodness, buy a frame for that map of Quebec!

  7. Historiann on 06 Aug 2010 at 6:55 am #

    The map is just a ripout from a Nat Geo about 15 years ago, so it’s just for reference, not for show.

    In my department, because office space is too rare anyway, taking an administrative position means moving out of your faculty office. So, that’s another reason why I’ll never go for it, even though mine is probably the easiest office in the world to clean out.

  8. Dr. Crazy on 06 Aug 2010 at 7:41 am #

    That’s the thing: I’d say definitely hang on to your sentimental faves, but what you’ll find if you actually remove every book from every shelf is that you will have a lot more than you think that you are completely comfortable purging and that you will *never* miss. If it’s all on the shelves, though – especially if in double-rows – you don’t really know what’s there. Basically, when I purge books, I use the criteria of a) do I have any particular attachment to this book? and b) will I ever read this book again? If the answer to both is no, then the book goes.

    True confession, though: many of the books in my office that aren’t textbooks are books that I have multiple copies of – sometimes even multiple copies of the same edition. Like you, I do most research stuff at home. However, I get really annoyed when I’m teaching something and I don’t have handy access to it in my office. Or maybe I need a few different editions for their different introductory matter or what have you. But so anyway, if my collection of books is a window into my soul, I fear that people would think that a) I have bizarre hoarding tendencies, b) that I have an atrocious memory and just keep buying the same crap over and over again, c) that I’m just a really boring and redundant person.

    But definitely buy the new shelves. You’ll need them even if you do a lot of purging.

  9. Jacob on 06 Aug 2010 at 7:47 am #

    In about four weeks, I am moving across the country, and for the first time, I am going through a major weeding of my personal library. I’m a collector and hoarder by nature, so I had a ton of books that I picked up at book sales, used book stores, etc. with the intention of reading one day. Mostly, I’ve been getting rid of those, fiction that I don’t expect to re-read, and books from school that I’m not sure why I kept. Of course, if the issue was shelf-space rather than transporting them 2000+ miles, I would have gone the buy-another-bookshelf route.

  10. Flavia on 06 Aug 2010 at 8:03 am #

    I’m with the chorus saying to purge things you feel utterly comfortable purging, but to buy another bookcase — I need another one myself!

    I do virtually all my scholarship at home, too, but I house the majority of my scholarly books in my campus office, in part because I have so many bookcases there and was so excited to have those bookcases (and I live in a modestly-sized apartment). But also because, like most people, my “scholarly field” covers an awful lot of writers and topics over almost two centuries, and some of them are writers I teach (or have taught, or studied in grad school) but don’t really do research on. I want those books, but I don’t need most of them available at a moment’s notice.

    When I’m working on a particular project, I bring the relevant books home, and keep them at home until I’m done with them. That does involve a bit of shuttling books back and forth, and yes, once in a while I wish I had a particular book at home — but frankly, the latter rarely happens, and not to the point that it brings my work to a standstill until I can get back to campus in a day or a few days. (But this may reflect a difference between literary scholars and historians.)

  11. Historiann on 06 Aug 2010 at 8:13 am #

    Jacob–why are you moving? New job, or starting school? Good luck, in any case.

    Dr. Crazy, you’re right–there’s probably stuff I could clear out without a second thought, but I’ll probably focus on the popular books and the recent but not awesome literary fiction on our shelves, as Katherine suggested.

    The problem with de-accessioning anything history-related is that I can’t say what will or won’t be useful to me in the future, and I know I’d torment myself with regret if I ever got rid of books I might end up needing for my future research projects. Example: I never in my life saw myself doing research in Quebec, so I’m glad I hung onto my 24-year old French/English dictionary that was waterlogged because of a leak above the bookshelf in my freshman dorm in 1986. It’s still super-handy, and a good travel size (two trips to Paris and Quebec each!)

  12. squadratomagico on 06 Aug 2010 at 8:32 am #

    I love your little soldiers!

    I say: Bring the books you’ve read, but not found valuable, to your office. That’s what I do. I also work only at home and use my office just to meet with students: I’ve never written a paragraph there. But, I have very limited book space at home, and a two-academic household, so I cannot keep very much here, even though it’s my primary work space. Depending on what I’m working on at any given moment, I also recirculate things between the two spaces.

    The down side is that sometimes I do want a volume from campus, and must wait until my next trip in that direction. The up side is that it’s actually easier for me to scan my bookshelf for useful inspiration, because only the most inspiring tomes are there.

  13. squadratomagico on 06 Aug 2010 at 8:36 am #

    Oops: I broke your rule. Sorry. But still: better to bring things to your office than get rid of them altogether, which I understood you to be posing as an alternative. Even if you select only the least-useful, seldom-referenced books, you still will free up some space at home, yet be able to retain your entire library.

  14. Instinks : Historiann : History and sexual politics, 1492 to the present on 06 Aug 2010 at 8:43 am #

    [...] NOTE:   Click here only if you’re interested in the latest developments in the Colorado Democratic U.S. Senate primary race between Andrew Romanoff and the Unelected Senator Michael Bennet.  The New York Times has a story that’s superbad for Bennet–some of you easterners may have seen this today shortly after the paper hit your doorsteps.  Otherwise, please read and respond to the previous post in which I ask for advice about how to free up some shelf space. [...]

  15. Jacob on 06 Aug 2010 at 8:49 am #

    Historiann – I am moving to go back to school to work on my Ph.D. At least for the time being, I’ll be leaving the archives world behind.

  16. Historiann on 06 Aug 2010 at 8:53 am #

    That’s great, Jacob–good luck, and keep us posted!

    Squadrato–you’re right about keeping the library but freeing up some space at home. If future regret is what I fear most, maybe I’ll have to reconsider my office/home division of books. Lugging a few boxes into Baa Ram U. seems like a small effort by comparison.

    Fratguy has a lot of books too, so I owe him some shelf space here that’s not in the basement!

  17. Sharon on 06 Aug 2010 at 8:55 am #

    Two thoughts:

    Years ago, I made a dramatic shift in fields. It took me awhile to get up the courage to shed all the books from that previous version of myself. I finally took them to the scholarly used-book store and sold them for store credit. I used that store credit to support my book habit for years! (It was and is a fabulous book store, but I don’t live there anymore.) And I have never missed anything I sold.

    Now, a colleague runs a service-learning program at the local county jail. Periodically, I purge fiction and old textbooks by boxing them up and sending them to the jail library (which has a budget of $0 and exists solely on donations). I figure my feminist reading habits can only be a happy leavening down at the jail. (I do black out my name if I wrote it in the book.)

    A third thought: unless your home office is wonderfully spacious, beware of adding too many bookcases. Mine became oppressively small when bookcases ate up square footage. I finally had to take some of them out again.

  18. Matt L on 06 Aug 2010 at 9:24 am #

    All I can do is second the advice of Dr. Crazy, Squadratomagico, and Tony Grafton.

    I had a similar problem at Casa L. The fiancé, now wife, was ticked off that we had been in the new house for over a year, and I still had ten unopened boxes of books hiding behind the living room couch. (Never no mind that her literature books had usurped my book cases, but I guess if you snooze you loose in the race for shelf space). So I sorted through the books, got rid of two boxes, moved six others into the office at work and shoehorned the rest into the old shelves and a new book case.

    Historiann I have a related question for you and your posse of esteemed commenters: What did you do with all your files from your dissertation? I have three or four bankers boxes of files/leftovers from my dissertation. I have all the primary source stuff on my computer or in a filing cabinet at work. I have also squirreled away a couple of folders of articles I have used recently at work. But I haven’t looked at these boxes since the fall of 2004. Do I sort through it again, or just recycle it without looking?

  19. Indyanna on 06 Aug 2010 at 9:41 am #

    I lugged college and then grad school books from place to place for years and only purged any a few years ago when I emptied and sold the house I grew up in as the executor of an estate. And then only some of them, and still have “amputated limb” syndrome about a few. In the deaccession process I came across my mother’s WW II-era “book of the month club” library in boxes from before her marriage. Pretty low grade stuff, but symbolically meaningful, so maybe the Wood tome will be of some interest to a descendant. (You could scrawl a mysterious note in it, or print and tip in a copy of this blog post as a biographical clue). My mother’s books had to go through the probate auction, but the auctioneers cleverly sell only by the box, and seed books that they know are of interest to collectors into boxes full of chaff. So buyers acquire the box, keep the ones they want, and leave the rest behind. I salvaged a few dozen that sit on my shelves now. Not that I’m likely to read Margery Sharp, _Britannia Mews_ (Boston, Little Brown and Company, 1946) very soon.

  20. Dr. Crazy on 06 Aug 2010 at 9:48 am #

    “What did you do with all your files from your dissertation? I have three or four bankers boxes of files/leftovers from my dissertation. I have all the primary source stuff on my computer or in a filing cabinet at work. I have also squirreled away a couple of folders of articles I have used recently at work. But I haven’t looked at these boxes since the fall of 2004. Do I sort through it again, or just recycle it without looking?”

    Ok, so with articles, I did reorganize them by topic and file them in such a way that they can be of use to me in the present/future. But the boxes of files/leftovers? Notes? Drafts that were discarded? This spring when I moved I just tossed what remained without looking. I knew that if I’d looked I’d have ended up hanging on to most of it and yet still never looking at it again. The dissertation is dead! Long live the Next Book Project!

  21. Katherine on 06 Aug 2010 at 9:54 am #

    for my dissertation notes, I put a large file cabinet in my barn, and the notes are in the file cabinet, along with the notes from the textbook. I can get them (if the barn isn’t snowed in) but they aren’t under foot. I can’t bring myself to recycle them yet.

  22. Historiann on 06 Aug 2010 at 10:02 am #

    Matt–I sorted out the primary sources and notes on primary sources, and pretty much recycled the rest. Then, although I don’t have a barn like Katherine, I put it in a labeled box and put it up on a top shelf of a closet. (Just in case I need something in there.)

  23. Comrade PhysioProf on 06 Aug 2010 at 10:25 am #

    Do you have bookshelves in your fucken treehouse?

  24. Eric on 06 Aug 2010 at 10:38 am #

    I support the idea of buying more bookshelves, purging anything you are completely comfortable with disposing of, and moving anything you are unlikely to need to your office.

    I also find private libraries, especially those belonging to famous scholars, fascinating. I was recently looking through Peter Foote’s collection of Scandinavian and medieval materials and wishing I had a fraction of the rarer books (http://oldnorsenews.org/2010/06/peter-footes-library-up-for-auction/ ). Apparently Abdul Aziz al-Maqaleh owns something like 40,000 volumes and Umberto Eco 50,000. I always wonder just how many of their books compulsive bibliophiles actually have the chance to read.

  25. Historiann on 06 Aug 2010 at 10:42 am #

    At a certain point–probably very early on in their collections–it’s about the having, not the reading. How many days of the year do I pull down Father Lafitau? Two or three–which might be more action than many library copies see. But the fact that I CAN consult such an awesome primary source by just twisting around on my sofa–well, that’s priceless.

  26. Rose on 06 Aug 2010 at 10:45 am #

    I sold 14 boxes of books three years ago. I simply and completely ran out of space for them (at home, every wall with a bookcase). It wasn’t hard to sort them, but it took a while. I got rid of fields that no longer interest me (I’ve been in the scholarly life 30 years), books with dated information or interpretations, multiple copies (I didn’t know I had so many), and a lot of books in fields related to mine that I knew I would just never read. A used bookseller came to my house, and paid me $700. I had already had a relationship with him. Since then his business has been struggling, and he has largely stopped buying that many books at once. I still have about 10 boxes that he did not want (he only takes scholarly books). I take those a few at a time to Goodwill. After having said all that, I also should admit that I have regretted getting rid of some of them, and have bought copies of at least a half dozen of the books that I sold. So who knows what the best solution is. It felt good at the time.

  27. LadyProf on 06 Aug 2010 at 11:45 am #

    Would the Baa Ram physical plant people install cheap shelves towards the ceiling in your office, the kind you need to stand on a desk to reach? Might be some space up there that won’t get literally underfoot the way another bookcase would. When my school did it, at my behest, the ugliness of the shelves diminished once books were shoved up there, probably never to be touched again. The office looks cozier, I think. Doesn’t solve the problem, but it ameliorates.

    Same with getting rid of everything that publishers sent you unsolicited. Odds of your ever needing them puppies are vanishing.

  28. MsMcD on 06 Aug 2010 at 12:23 pm #

    I’m in the same boat as Jacob- moving 3000 miles, 9 days from now (for job rather than school). I just couldn’t move all my books and bookcases that far (no moving costs) so I had to get rid of some. I decided 10% would do it (approx 300 books). I started selling about a year ago on amazon, and have done quite well. I got rid of all those that 1) I had never read or referenced 2) I owned multiple copies of and 3) are too out of date to be useful (excluding classics). I was surprised that it wasn’t that difficult. I just decided that I was going to get rid of at least one book on each bookshelf. I got rid of my least favorite book on that shelf- I did that a few times. Now, I’m just excited to have an office finally, so I don’t have to have all of the books at home (in cramped apartment). I found it liberating. Now my books are ones I actually like and want around, rather than just a collection. (The show hoarding freaks me out sometimes, so I try extra hard to not be that, probably a little far in the other direction).

  29. Historiann on 06 Aug 2010 at 12:27 pm #

    I’ve heard about that show, Hoarding, but (aside from not having cable, which is a limiting factor) it sounds just too voyeuristic and creepy for me. I don’t really want to see people confronted by their own mental illness that way.

    Interesting thought, MsMcD–selling the books means that there’s a better chance your books went to people who will actually read and enjoy them. I’ll think about that. I also like LadyProf’s suggestion about the shelves. I might ask around–if I could get rid o fthe (mostly empty) bookcases in my office, I might have enough room to put in a sofa or something useful.

  30. Katherine on 06 Aug 2010 at 12:28 pm #

    Seems that floor to ceiling book cases are against the fire code. The fire marshal (we call him something else), who came in to my office one day on inspection started throwing the books on the the top shelf of my book cases onto the floor. I failed to appreciate his attempt to rescue me from my impending danger, and we had a loud argument. Being only a professor, I lost the argument, and lived with books on my floor for weeks. Ultimately they took my old bookcases away and replaced them with shorter ones. This was only a spot inspection, so not everyone lost their tall shelves. But books to the ceiling, so I am told create a path for fire to move up a building–who knew?

  31. LadyProf on 06 Aug 2010 at 12:38 pm #

    Interesting, Katherine–I had no idea and fortunately neither did the people who said yes!

    Slightly O/T: last year I did a sabbatical at an Australian university that had just opened its new building. The interior architects had announced that because we’re now in a paperless digital world, each office would contain only one small file cabinet and one small bookcase. “You’ll miss all that paper at first but then you’ll get used to it,” they intoned. Needless to add, the faculty were fuming.

  32. Foose on 06 Aug 2010 at 1:29 pm #

    My interests are varied and I can’t give up my collection altogether. I too have had my bitter encounter with the fire marshal, who paid an uninvited visit to my apartment when I had an accident (I tried to keep him out, but it’s hard when you’re strapped to a gurney). He decreed I had “too many” books and that they posed a threat to those living below.

    So I pay for storage space. It’s 10 blocks away and does not lend itself to cozy catchup visits with the exiled books. Each month, as I dole out the cash, I feel like some ostensibly respectable 19th-century spinster with a bastard child out to nurse. One day we will be together!

  33. Indyanna on 06 Aug 2010 at 1:35 pm #

    I love it when administerians make decisions constraining or shaping the knowledge process. When anyone wearing a tie, uniform, or name badge enters the academic space and begins functioning, “citizen’s arrest” should be a first step rather than a last resort. There’s no lower that you can go at our place than to be part of the instructional pool. I was once ordered out of my office by a student worker from IT. Just the other day in a library, a U. rent-a-guard who was doing confidential drug background checks on an open catalogue terminal–and who had walked about thirty feet away to talk to a colleague–ordered me to “step away from the terminal” when I reached over to click away from a perp page that was in full display mode.

  34. Kathie on 06 Aug 2010 at 2:48 pm #

    I was going to suggest selling on Amazon also – I’ve been doing it for a couple of years, and the only drawback is that you have to be ready to mail a book to the new owner within 48 hours. And the pace of my sales has slowed down with the economic slow down.

    But I know that a lot of my books have gone to graduate students and other scholars (often you can tell from their address that they are at at Uni somewhere), so that is a good feeling. Because I only add a few books at a time to my “for sale” list, it is akin to the strategy of picking the least-liked book from each shelf. I can’t bring myself to get rid of boxes at a time – at least not yet! – but I tell myself, slow and steady wins the race.

    I have not regretted selling a single one – or any that I have donated to libraries over the years. I have so many books, some of them were in a rented storage unit that was supposed to be temporary. I had actually forgotten that I owned some of those titles, so how could I miss them?

  35. Maggie on 06 Aug 2010 at 3:40 pm #

    Clearly, many of us feel your pain! Now seems like a good time to suggest LibraryThing.com as a way to help you keep track of what you have and don’t have, and where in your house or office it is. I know that people on the talk forums there have also had many long conversations about pruning their collections. However, my suggestion is always going to be to purchase another bookshelf. You should still spend some time pruning as much as you can, but you know you’re going to fill that new bookshelf up eventually, so why not get it now? You can use it as buffer space to sort on. Good luck!

  36. Matt L on 06 Aug 2010 at 4:50 pm #

    Dr. Crazy, Historiann, Katherine – thanks!

  37. Feminist Avatar on 06 Aug 2010 at 7:05 pm #

    On a boring practical advice level, you could also think about what books are easy to access in other places- like the internet- when deciding what to get rid of or move to your work office. So, if a book is mostly viewable on google, you could say that the risk of having it at work and needing to quote the hidden section is minimal (similarly a book where the argument is really made in an article somewhere that could be referenced). Whereas a book with no online presence might be the one to keep around for when you unexpectedly need a footnote.

    Similarly, a book with a really important argument to your field might actually be less necessary to have around than those who have particular information. Perhaps it’s just me but the books I need to footnote with the level of detail that require me looking up individual pages tend not to be those in ‘my field’, but the one that provide context, like ‘there was x farmers in the region earning x amount’ provided by economic historian(to provide context to a discussion on, say, power relationships in the farming family), whereas with, say, fab theorist in my field, I am more inclined to go ‘fab theorist argues’ and footnote the entire book (or perhaps a chapter or large chunk). So, I’d be inclined to think that I don’t need economic historian to hand, but in fact the devil is in the detail.

  38. Daniel S. Goldberg on 07 Aug 2010 at 6:59 am #

    I had this problem for a quite awhile. My family and I just moved (new position, yay), and the stricken look on my face when my wife suggested we get rid of some of my books implied she might as well have offered to amputate a limb. A few years ago I conceded and began donating virtually all of the leisure fiction reading books I have.

    We moved into a smaller place, but I was surprised to see this past week that a prior occupant of my new office had literally filled 3 out of the 4 walls with bookcases, not quite floor-to-ceiling, but close to it. All of my books don’t even fill quite half of them, yet.

    So it’s a bit weird; I get exactly what I wish for — oodles of space for all of my books — but without a window, it does feel a little “basement-y.” Still, at least I don’t have to make any more tough decisions about books for a while.

  39. Dame Eleanor Hull on 07 Aug 2010 at 9:46 am #

    Indyanna and other readers of now-obscure, once-popular fiction: _Britannia Mews_ traces the sociological changes of an area of London through one of its inhabitants, a girl of good family who runs off with a no-goodnik and makes a new life for herself. It’s one of Sharpe’s better books, I think. I also recommend _Cluny Brown_.

  40. Homostorian Americanist on 07 Aug 2010 at 10:33 am #

    I’m with Squad. I keep almost all of my academic books in my office at school, even though I NEVER write anything there and just circulate writing-necessary books back to my home study, where I have less room. It’s true that every once in a while I need something that is on campus, but I can always get it within a few days. It’s not like it’s been sold or donated, just temporarily unavailable.

  41. Suzanne on 07 Aug 2010 at 5:48 pm #

    When I get that feeling of “must purge need simpler existence aah”, I purge my closet or cupboards instead. Keep the books, lose the sweater I never wear. May not free up as much space, but makes me feel better.

  42. Canuck down South on 07 Aug 2010 at 6:35 pm #

    On a more philosophical level, I’ve been reading Alberto Manguel’s _The Library at Night_ over the past few days. He has some charming discussions of some of the problems of this topic–the way that a book collections expands and then overflows its space, and the way that locations of different books makes them talk to one another. So if you’re interested enough to acquire another (!) book, you might find it interesting.

  43. Brian Herrera on 07 Aug 2010 at 11:44 pm #

    I’ve done two MAJOR book purges this year alone. I’ve probably thinned things by 500+ volumes.

    For the first purge, I mostly evacuated all the titles that had to do with research/teaching interests that had passed.

    For the more recent round, I used a variant of the “if you haven’t worn it in a year” rule. Basically, if I encountered a title that I had not referenced (in word, thought or deed) in the last year or two, then it was eligible for departure. I was surprised at how many titles this netted. Then I assessed the “potentially departing” books for value (both in terms of price and sentimental/intellectual import), routing everything to keep/sell/donate piles as appropriate.

    For the “to sell” books, I used Cash4Books.net and amazon. For the “to donate” books, I began with a 1-day, 3-hour yardsale that I advertised on facebook, email and craigslist. All books 75cents or two for a dollar. The morning of the sale, the bookfiends arrived promptly and did their part to cart most of the tomes away. Whatever was left was carted to my favorite charity-run thrift shop.

    Based on my experience, I wholeheartedly recommend thinning your collection. I have not yet encountered a moment when I’ve honestly regretted letting go of a particular title. And it feels great to (a) know what I have and where it is and (b) to have room for newly arrived titles.

  44. susurro on 08 Aug 2010 at 2:57 pm #

    I vote go buy another book case, who needs floor space …

    that said, I usually start with duplicates. Three times in the last 15 years I have gone through the shelves for duplicate and triplicates of books. I donate second copies to the libraries of the various identity studies programs at our uni and third copies to student organizations or student services with libraries. This has thinned down my collection enough to make it feel like I made some headway tho I did not.

    A colleague of mine recently started a book swap situation, where we all get together with a stack of books from our collections that we haven’t read in forever but aren’t willing to permanently give up and share them with each other. I bring 20 or so books and promise myself I will only take 10 from others. But this too is a mind game where I end up actually having more not less books. But who knows, maybe you have more discipline than me.

    My last not so helpful suggestion is renovate the garage or invest in an attractive portable to move some of your lesser read books if you have run out of room in the house. My gf renovated an old beat up 50s trailer for me as an anniversary present, we painted it, stuck it in the side of the yard surrounded by plants, and promptly moved my stacks of books crowding our floors into it.

    I wish I could say that like others I would not miss books that I gave up but the few times I have actually thinned my collection instead of playing these mind games with myself, I really have needed that book later. But then, as you’ve probably guessed, I’m a little like Henry Bemis in this way.

  45. Susan on 08 Aug 2010 at 5:28 pm #

    Late to this as a result of traveling, but I’d say moving some thing to your office would work. Now, my office book shelves are a disaster — all double shelved — but I’m trying to move all my teaching related books there, so I can have the research and writing collection at home. Then I just bring home books for the courses I’m teaching that semester… maybe create a small area for current teaching books.

    Because our university library is so small, I try to donate there first. And there’s a tax deduction — not quite cash in hand, but close! Then I can get them out if needed. So if they will take it, I think I will gradually ease out books that I’m pretty sure I’ll never use, but will be comforted by knowing their location.

  46. Kathie on 09 Aug 2010 at 3:51 pm #

    A late addition to the discussion:
    “Creative New Uses for Books,” by Rob Walker, NY Times, August 6, 2010
    some different ideas of how to use books you no longer want to read or keep …
    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/08/magazine/08fob-consumed-t.html?_r=1

  47. Ask the readers: A feminist decluttering question « Grumpy rumblings of the untenured on 13 Aug 2010 at 1:46 am #

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