I’m cleaning out my bookshelves and getting rid of books. Marie Kondo-ing my space and deciding what sparks joy and what does not.
Okay, maybe not completely Marie Kondo style.
I don’t think I can properly explain how difficult it is to do that. Over the years, and with the help of Amazon Prime, I have amassed an impressive collection of books. They’re everywhere, and while I like to think that my library has some serious Beauty and the Beast potential, I also know that it’s time to downsize.
Not gonna lie, I am having a hard time letting go. But I am prioritizing titles and deciding what to do with the ones that don’t make the cut.
Harry Potter — the entire set, copies and all — is a keeper. The hardcover first editions that I purchased as they were released stay on my shelf. I’m also keeping the paperback editions to lend out. And of course, the foreign editions that I’ve never read but love looking at. Also the extended library. Those all stay.
Then there are the books that have been signed by various authors and of course, all the Neil Gaiman books — signed and unsigned — that have the coveted shelf right above the Potter collection. These are easy to decide on. And obviously, I’m keeping the classics: my Shakespeare collection, Dante, Camus, and a shelf of titles for a solid High School lit curriculum (or as my son calls it, the “Shelf of Books I can SparkNote“).
I have children’s books as well. Titles that I salvaged from my parents house that no one has ever read but me and my kids: Good Night Veronica, Mrs. Discombobulous, Just Alike Princes, Andrew Henry’s Meadow. They are books I read with my kids that are out of print and more than likely never reprinted after their first run. It’s easy to separate those from the ones I am not attached to: the Barbie and Superhero books, the Barney books, the Teletubbies books. My kids read them and then tossed them but for some reason, over the years, I just left them on the shelves.
Then there are others that have not been read or touched in years that I still hang onto, thinking about how one day my children will want to read them to their own children. Each one of my kids has a favorite book, the one I had to read a thousand times, every night. The one that they remember falling into, lost in the pictures or the words. Sometimes, it is just one picture that conjures up the memory:
“I remember that door and I wanted to jump into it.”
“I loved that one picture of the dog and the birds. It was my favorite page.”
There is something sacrosanct about all my books. I love seeing them on the shelves, transporting myself to when I first read them. Getting rid of them is like losing a memory, and losing the chance to hand them to a friend with the urgent plea, “Oh my God, read this!” I think about this as I take them down and put them in boxes, offering titles up for free on various WhatsApp groups, wondering what home or shelf they will find themselves on.
As I go through my bookshelves, I empty literal and figurative chapters of my life: when reading children’s books trumped reading classics, when mindless Chick Lit (am I even allowed to use that term?) was my go-to, when I eschewed fiction and devoured memoirs. I take them off the shelves, one-by-one, putting some chapters away and keeping others as placeholders for times in my life. The ones I choose to keep — the ones written by friends, my well-worn classics, my graphic novels, my childhood picture books — are more than books to lend and share and reread. They are like tiny pensieves, holding memories and moments that are triggered by their scent, their touch, their pictures.
It’s interesting what we attach ourselves to and the meaning we ascribe to objects that somehow, over years, becomes important not in functionality but just in being. I may be cleaning out my bookshelves and getting rid of books, but I’m also creating a uniquely specific, finely curated, home library that tells its own story. A story told not only by what is kept, but what is discarded.
An ongoing story that continues with the next Amazon delivery.