Discussion: How Do You Unhaul?

Recently I decided to rationalise my book collection.  This is for a variety of reasons, not least that my living quarters are cramped and that if I keep on going the way that I have been, the choice will be between me living here or my books.  I do quite like having a roof over my head.  I just also like having a lot of books.  I find them decorative, comforting, soothing – getting rid of a book is never easy for me.  As a seven year-old, I gave away my ‘Stories for Six Year-Olds’ to a younger friend in a fit of maturity, but soon afterwards regretted it – I missed the stories and wanted to reread.  The pattern tended to repeat and I decided grimly that it was better that I keep all of my books to myself.  I do not wish to be the old lady who lives in her books though so I want to ask – how do other people decide when and how to unhaul their books?

Last week, I went through my book shelf and managed to rid myself of two Morrisons Bags for Life with books that will be taking the trip.  This was a feat of great emotional difficulty but my boyfriend was kind enough to say that he was proud of me.  This was the criteria that I came up for an unhaul:

  1. Review Copies – the rate of my bookish acquisitions have skyrocketed since I started the website and while many of them have been wonderful (examples include The Narrow Road to the Deep NorthMotherlandThe Table of Less Valued Knights to name but a few) but there have also been those which were unspeakable or just plain dull (Watch the Lady, Mr Mac and Me and many, many more).  For those books which were just a trial to get through, and which are now past their release date, it is an easy thing to wave them a not so fond goodbye.
  2. The Disposable Reads – By this, I refer to the books which are only ever to be read once.  I mean the books which are heavily plot-dependent.  A recent example of this which I unhauled was The Silvered Heart.  Despite certain reservations, I did enjoy this well enough but I am never going to re-read and – this is the good thing – because I’ve blogged about it, I can read the review if I ever find myself missing it like I did Stories for Six Year-Olds.  I can be strong and I can let the hard copy go.
  3. The Slightly Disappointing – I will be honest, I can be stubborn and am unwilling to admit that I have made a mistake.  If I’ve spent my own money on a book, I tend to hold on to it.  I am also unwilling to give up and stop reading a book that I actually don’t like.  But actually, nobody is winning if I hold on to a book out of some misguided desire to hoard all of the books in the world.

I feel though that I need to think of other criteria for unhauling.  I am in no danger of becoming a bookless individual – I have dozens of unread books which I definitely want to hold on to make my own opinion on and then the multitudes that I have already read and loved and want to keep forever.  So – I want to ask, how do other people decide which books to shift?

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9 thoughts on “Discussion: How Do You Unhaul?

  1. Oh where to start!

    How good it would be to have a house big enough to have a library, a room, or even rooms, dedicated to keeping books in? But of course, for most of us, this is never going to happen.

    As you know from previous comments from me, but some of your followers may not, twenty years ago I ‘lost’ 95% of my collection of 2,000 books in a rather acrimonious divorce, these had been accumulated over nearly 30 years. Most of the time it doesn’t matter that much to me, but occasionally I read about a book that I used to own and I’m reminded that I don’t any more so I can’t go to the shelf and look at it.

    So now I have accumulated another twenty years worth of books, including replacements of ones I used to have thanks to e-bay.

    As well as newly published books I now have multiple copies of old favourites (for example ‘Brideshead Revisited’ in the various Penguin cover designs, why? Because I can and I like them I suppose.) I’m not alone in the household either and we are running out of space, so now in my home office there is a stack of boxes behind the door full of books as well as all the ones on shelves. I did sort out some to pass on a week or so ago, ending up with just one small carrier bag full for a local charity shop. Added to all that, there are some books I have ‘reading’ copies of so that I can be less careful with them and annotate them should I need to and so it goes on. Then of course paperback copies of ones I already own in hardback as they easier to read in bed!

    On day I will have to ‘unhaul’ as you put it, but every time I try I just think perhaps I will read that again or for the first time. I did have some boxes of books in the garage (like most people the garage is not for cars!) but clearing out last month some of those books found there way indoors again!

    If I stand outside myself I have to ask the question ‘Why do physical books matter so much?’

    1. I suppose that is the key question – I got a copy of Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life on the Kindle for £1 and then realised that I was enjoying the book so much that a virtual copy wasn’t going to cut it! I splashed out on a £3 paperback copy from Tesco not long afterwards.

      I too have multiple copies of several books, particularly Pride and Prejudice and Wuthering Heights – several of which belonged to people who are now dead and it’s really nice having that connection.

      I suppose the big point though is getting strict over not holding on to books just for the sake of having a large library – it’s about giving up that feeling that I’ve had since childhood, that if I give a book away, I will instantly miss it. Perhaps this is just a neuroses and I need to be realistic about the books that I will genuinely read again!

  2. The main questions I ask myself are “Am I going to want to read this again?” and “If so, can I get it easily at the library?” If I truly think I’m not going to reread, even if I enjoyed it the first time, it has to go — and if it’s not some hard-to-find treasure, I should pass it along as well. I do have some regrets over some books I’ve discarded this way, but I need to have some standards or else I would be buried in books.

    1. Yes – I mean I hang on to some as my mother and I have quite a good book-swapping service that works both ways (I’ve even been guilty of leaving books with her ostensibly for her to try but actually because I was short of bookshelf space at the time). I’m not very good at being strict over the re-read rule but I can see it’s something I’m going to have to become more hard-hearted about.

      Thank you so much for commenting!

  3. The re-read question is the biggest one I ask myself. If I am not going to read it again, why keep it? I have a few exceptions. Any reference-type book, if it is part of a series that I not finished (i will keep until done) or one that has high sentimental value or special collection. I will create a system that to take new books in, I must get rid of 2 books. Either books I no longer have an interest in reading or doubtful I ever will read go first. Then as I read new books, I keep track. When I have read about 4-5 books I ask those questions, is it part of a series I need to finish or will I re-read this?
    Also, for books I am on the fence about, I look at how common the book is. I had a ton of John Grisham for example but every library has his books and they are very common in thrift stores, used book stores etc. When I am ready to read them, I have easy access. So if I hem and haw over parting, this is another factor I look into.

    1. I’m running a ‘one in and one out’ system at the moment – this doesn’t make the Pile any small though. You’re right about reference or ‘coffee table’ books and I agree about the ‘easy-to-find’ books, although I think that crime is probably the genre I am most likely to give away, since it is rare that I would re-read once the mystery is gone – I am really impressed by how strict your rules are. I am learning to become more detached and have got rid of a fair few this year but there’s a lot more work to be done. I think though that the urge to hang on to everything I ever read is something that I will always have to fight against – I am a bookaholic!

  4. I’m reminded of when I was a teenager not wanting to take a book back to the library, I’d read it and knew I would probably do so again but wanted it on my shelf not theirs!

  5. I usually try to base it on whether I’m going to want to reread it OR if I’m going to want to dip back into it for reference. Or in a few cases, if I own everything else by that author and this one book maybe isn’t quite as good but if I keep it then I’ll have, like, the full set. There are a few books I keep around for that reason too.

    I recently suggested to a friend of mine looking to unhaul that she should line up the books she’s not sure about in order (from left to right) of how much she wants to keep them. And then get rid of everything after a certain place in the line. I think the act of prioritizing the books like that is less of a big ask than saying “I DO NOT WANT THIS”, but also, once you’ve admitted to yourself that you want X book less than Y book, it’s a smaller jump to admitting you don’t want X book all that much at all.

  6. I almost never reread, so I shouldn’t keep any books, right? But somehow I still can’t part with some – I know it’s silly, but there are books that simply hold sentimental value for me and I don’t want to get rid of them. I do try to get rid of others, though. I’m doing a giveaway on my site right now of some books that I need to purge! 🙂

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