April 17   A book confession

Posted by


The other day something I had been avoiding for a while now smacked me in the face. Well actually, it knocked one of my Ditmars off a shelf and broke it (it’s one that was probably glued together in the first place so can be easily fixed, I hope). I’ve been in denial about it but the truth is – I have never actually unpacked my books and put them away in this house. Terri came to borrow a couple of books that I *know* I own but when I went looking for them, I couldn’t find them. Normally I am really pedantic about my books. They are the first possessions that I pack and move when I move house and I always always have a very specific way to shelve them.

Alas, I moved in with C in June last year and all I did was *unpack* my books. And locate them kind of in the study. I had lost bookcases in all my various house moves and all the bookcases here were full. So there was nowhere to unpack them into it. I did go and buy myself four bookcases from Ikea. Two are in the study and are filled hapazardly with my books. One got pilfered for C’s games in his man cave. And the fourth is in our bedroom and is filled with my To Be Read books. But there is no order or reason to any of my bookcases at the moment and worse, they nowhere near fit all of my book collection, some of which are stacked in front on the shelves (leading to Ditmar fatalities) or piled under my desk and just around.

I was really upset that I couldn’t lend Terri the books she was looking for. I did lend her some books she didn’t *know* she was looking for and I think that worked out ok. But I am really really unhappy that I don’t know which books are where and have just abandoned this part of settling in. I think maybe, I can’t really be properly settled in if my books aren’t.

On the weekend, I finally started to confront this issue. I started to sort my books into some grouping order – everything was just everywhere. As I started to sort them, I started to realise I could actually cull some books. This could help with the storage issue. And something else too. As I’ve continued to declutter, both in my physical and my electronic world, I’ve found a great sense of freedom and removal of weight from letting go or letting myself off the hook or out of the guilt of wanting to want to read or do or like certain things. I think this might also be part of settling into your late (eek!) thirties. I’m caring less about doing things to fit in. And I know we as a community pride ourselves on not doing things to fit in but even in this community, there is still pressure to read (and like) certain books or blogs or whatever. And I’ve started to notice that I force myself to try to like some things and then I ignore or don’t allow myself to just not. And lately, I’m kinda starting to let that go. Who cares if I don’t like something? Life is pretty short, too damn short, to spend it reading books you don’t like or doing something you don’t care for just because everyone else is. And as I start to let go, I’m actually finding I’m discovering ore of me in the process. But that’s something for another blog post.

So I realised that I didn’t need to keep books, to let them take up shelf space, just so I can impress someone else. If I don’t own a book any more, does that mean I didn’t read it? How would you know? And if I do own a book, does that mean I *have* read it? How would you know? So I started being ok with removing books from the collection. And some of that is about letting go of possessions I have dragged with me for the last 15 years and somehow contribute to defining me for that reason alone. I’m not done. I’m not nearly done. But I’m ok with having started.

I am still going to need more bookcases. But I have to first figure out where they would go.

But I’m actually posting about this to ask a question. I have more than one To Be Read area. My bookcase in my bedroom is my recent (last 2 to 3 years) accumulation of books to be read. I have another little bookcase (15 cm wide and only three shelves) in the study which is an overflow To Be Read bookcase, probably of books with a similar book stashing timeframe, possibly a bit longer. Kind of books I’m somewhat less wanting to read. This case can probably be properly sorted and perhaps weeded. But in my main book collection, I noticed I have a lot of books that I haven’t read but still want to own and at some point, not in the immediate future, intend to read. Some are classics and I never really feel bad about buying those and then popping them in the main collection. But not all are. And for some reason, I’m ok with them being there and not in the To Be Read and feel confident that when I feel like reading those specific titles, I will go looking for them. BUT … why don’t I feel that way about the main To Be Read books? And further, those books take up an entire bookcase. At some point, I intend to read them and then shelve them in the main collection. So … that means that I need another whole bookcase just for the To Be Read alone, assuming I continue to accumulate at a constant rate.

Do you keep your To Be Read books separately? How do you tell the difference between books you really intend to read and books you feel you should just own?

Tags: , ,

Add a Facebook Comment


  • By Julia Rios on 17 April 2012 at 11:40 pm

    My shelves are in total disarray, and I am struggling with the same set of questions. The difference is I have no dedicated to be read shelf, just books I’m meant to read scattered everywhere. A major culling is necessary in the near future, and I know I really would feel better if the shelves were in better order, but the whole thing seems so daunting.

    Which is all to say: I’m not much help, but I sympathize.

  • By Tansy Rayner Roberts on 18 April 2012 at 6:07 am

    I have one big to read shelf which seems to be developing a class system of its own (books I’m excited about at the top, books I have had on there a long time going lower)

    I have occasionally filed books that I haven’t read in the permanent shelves – classics and non fiction/reference titles mostly. But the reason I tend not to do this is because there’s a lot more wiggle room in my to read shelf (well on its teetering towers) than the permanent shelves which have far too many books on them anyway.

    I need a cull. Many culls.

  • By Thoraiya on 18 April 2012 at 7:00 am

    Got two To-Read shelves!

    They are sorted into “recent stuff” – that I want to read in time for award nominating – so this shelf is small at the moment and mostly made up of short story collections or anthologies that I’ve read SOME of – and “old stuff” – which is mostly secondhand books where I’ve gone, “I’ve heard of Joan D Vinge, and here’s 20 of hers for a dollar each!” New books that were published more than a couple of years ago also go there. And that shelf is pretty huge.

    I will only keep what I love, or what I suspect the Small One will find useful for school or pleasure reading in the future. For example I loathe Sweet Valley High but who knows, that one tatty book that I’m reluctantly holding on to might lead her to a series that gives her immesurable pleasure.

  • By Helen on 18 April 2012 at 8:23 am

    My to be read pile is usually pretty small because I’m a very fast reader. After Swancon I had 14 new books – joy, bliss – and I’ve already read six and I’m halfway through the seventh. While I’m not trying to do two jobs like you are – one is quite enough, thank you – I suspect I’d have finished at least three or four even in your situation. Books have to be read as soon as possible after they enter the house and (except for review copies) most are chosen because I want to read them.

    I’m also trying to cull some books at the moment. There are two cartons ready to go to the Save the Children’s book sale and there’ll be more soon. But I also have cartons packed up for the duration of the renos that I know need sorting. That will have to wait until I have my new bookcases – and i have to tell you as a one time librarian, it grieves me not to have my books in order so I can get them when I want them.

  • By significance on 18 April 2012 at 2:10 pm

    N and I have a “to be read” bookcase each. I don’t keep books that I don’t intend to read. Every now and again, I try to go through my “to be read” case and remove any that I don’t see myself ever reading. N gives all his an equal chance by using a random number generator (two ten-sided dice) to pick his next book.

  • By Marg on 21 April 2012 at 6:52 pm

    My books are all over the place at the moment. I keep library books in one place and a pile of review books in another place, but everything else I buy is sort of everywhere. Once upon a time I used to alphabetise by size but I really need to take some time to reorganise everything.

  • By mark on 22 April 2012 at 3:36 pm

    I’ve got three to-be-read piles. The first is on, beside and inside (and if I’m not careful behind) my beside table. That one worries me. There could be some kind of book avalanche while I sleep, especially if what my wife says about my snoring is true. The result would not be pretty.

    The other is in the study and tends to bias towards periodicals. Once I decided that reading at least one story in a magazine counted as reading the whole issue if I needed it to, that pile became less of an issue.

    The most insidious pile though is the virtual one that sits on my Kindle. As I read books I delete them, so the physical device is in effect my to-be-read pile. The already read books sit in the cloud somewhere. I’m assured they are safe and keep each other company.

    The Kindle to-be-read pile’s lack of physical manifestation means that it grows and grows without me noticing. The guilt is correspondingly less. And that means I buy more books.

    You can see where that path leads.

    Thinking about the second half of your question, a lot of my non-fiction books seem to more easily graduate to “something I should own” status. “Worthy” fiction authors often sit there too. They wait patiently for that elusive time where I will not be exhausted from work, family and outside pursuits and I can really knuckle down and actually understand them.

    Some of those books have been waiting for years.


  • By AlisaK on 22 April 2012 at 7:11 pm

    I’ve loved all your comments! It’s made me feel so much better to find out I’m not the only one out here with books in disarray and TBR queues of guilt!

    Thank you for sharing

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URL

Leave a comment