The Great Book Shift

I have embarked on the first Great Book Shift since the summer of 2015, when Mark and I got back from our circumnavigation of Iceland. After that trip I bought so many books (and needed to write about them in three instalments–each word is a separate hyperlink) that I made the time to reorganize my bookshelves and find room to interfile all of them. Since then, over the past four years, I have travelled to Finland (three times), Cape Town, Iceland (twice), the Faroe Islands, Denmark and Germany, plus most recently Estonia and Sweden. All of the books I bought on those trips, as well as all the books I had acquired via other means, have remained on my library floor gaining height in ever-increasing piles. I could not move around my library floor without dancing on tiptoe around the piles of books. For four years I procrastinated shifting my book collection because I hated the job. Whenever I thought about getting around to doing it, I’d realize I had a major vacation coming up in a few months so I put off the task knowing that I’d soon be bringing home a suitcase full of new books anyway. Why shift everything now when I could do it in a few months?

Those “few months” dragged out to four years and I finally got so sick of my cluttered library floor that I have been like a madman getting it all organized. Two other reasons gave me immediate cause to get down to business. One, a colleague of mine was looking after my budgies and left evidence of having been in my library. I don’t mind at all when people look at my books, but I was ashamed that he had to dance around my floor to see anything on the bookshelves. Two, I have been influenced by Marie Kondo of late. She is a famous declutterer, and specifically a book declutterer. I took a long look at the books I had acquired over the last four years and wondered where would I file them. I knew without hesitation that the answer would not be on new bookshelves. I had to make room by getting rid of books that I no longer wanted. This was not as sacrilegious a task as I thought it would be. Over the past few years I have been decluttering my Beatles book collection (and I am still doing it) so I know that I have the capacity to part with books I once loved. I have given some books to colleagues at work who love the Beatles, and donated the rest to my library’s book sale. 

This past weekend I was obsessed with decluttering. I stayed up till past 3 a.m., brain buzzing away getting rid of things. When I decluttered my Beatles book collection, I asked myself several questions: Is there a chance I will ever refer to this book again? Did I even like the book? Do I know someone who might like it? And I made unsentimental choices to part with some of them. I know I did not do anything in haste, as I am glad I kept one of my copies of the first official Beatles biography. I have already referred to it since I read it. That’s another thing: there’s no good reason for me to keep multiple copies of the same book. I am still weaning myself off the multiple foreign editions and hardcover and paperback duplicates of the same damn Beatles books. I turfed the hardcover edition of The Beatles: The Authorized Biography while keeping the paperback. 

Now my language interests attract a smaller audience and I cannot think of anyone who might appreciate the books that I was considering giving away. In some cases, language books I read and reviewed (and so thoroughly hated) I turfed shortly after reading them. Yet what about other books, ones that are considered reference and not those you would read cover-to-cover? The books I removed from my collection were in some sense duplicates. Did I really need three different paperback English-French/French-English dictionaries? I was in Montreal this past May and I brought one such paperback dictionary with me. I had to make up my mind before leaving home which one I was taking to Montreal. And so I kept that one, and discarded the others. I had multiple bidirectional dictionaries in other languages yet some of them had more words and definitions than other editions. Some were in colour, and some were easier to use. Why then was I keeping multiple copies? So I made up my mind to keep only one such dictionary. I turfed dictionaries in Norwegian, Arabic, Polish and Korean. In the latter two I discarded two of each. There was no need for me to keep any more than one. I did the same with language instruction materials and grammars. Why keep inferior materials? So I junked multiple sets of texts and workbooks for Korean, Italian, French, Afrikaans, Arabic and a whole lot of other languages. 

I also decided to part with some of the nonfiction that I had read and reviewed, but could not see ever referring to again. Some of these books I liked very much, but nevertheless could not imagine ever needing to pick up again. Books about Finland, South Africa, Italy and Switzerland joined the growing piles of exiles. I brought them all down to my front door. I banished them from the upstairs library; once they were downstairs by the front door they were never going to make their way upstairs again.  

I am pleased to say that all my books that heretofore had floorside residence are now gracing the shelves of my bookcases. Way back in April of 2014 I wrote about my book collection yet never got around to writing about my other personal libraries. That blog series never got past episode one. I am now looking over those photos to find which books that I no longer own. 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *