C is for culling books and why I am so bad at it

Author: Anne

Date Published: May 3rd 2017, 5:29pm

I am republishing this blog about how I intend to cull my book collection and why I find it difficult - the situation has not got any better in the two years since this was originally posted and I may well have replaced the books I got rid of and even added more. Let's look on it as a lifelong task !


Although I frequently tell people, as I stagger in with the latest finds from a charity shop hunt, that you can’t have too many books this is, in fact, not always true. There comes a time when you have to look through those that you own and weed out the weak – you have to cull your book collection.

This happened to me a year or so ago. I live in a moderately large house with plenty of room for books but I had managed to fill up even that generous space. I had books on top of books, books in front of books, and even books in piles on the floor. We are also thinking that, as we get older, we will want to relocate to a smaller home which maybe cannot sustain such a collection. I made the decision that I would start to cull. I have to say that it hasn’t been easy and, on occasion, it has been emotional.

I started with the easy ones. The books that I read once, didn’t particularly enjoy, but shelved anyway out of habit as much as anything. There were quite a lot of these but there were also quite a lot where I was pretty sure that I had enjoyed the book but I had never bought any others by the same author or felt the urge to reread it – both of those would be indications that I thought it above average. In those cases I felt that I should add it to my pile of unread books and give it a second chance. This partially explains why my to be read pile is so enormous.

Another easy category was the classics that I can now get for no cost or pennies on my Kindle. Away went my Jane Austen, Sherlock Holmes, John Buchan and childhood favourites. I now have those on tap electronically. I did keep my Rudyard Kipling because I have them in a delightful series of beautifully clad pocket editions I picked up second hand many years ago.

After I had got rid of the easy ones I rearranged my bookshelves into genre and then author and began to look at the books I had kept. I admitted to those of you who read my blogs some time ago that I am a completist – I like to have whole series of books or all the books by one author. This means that I have large amounts of books together on my shelves where actually I might only have liked one or two, perhaps the early ones in the series, and kept on buying the others as a sort of obsession. I made the decision to part with all my Laurel K Hamilton books featuring Anita Blake as I had bought over ten of them when only the first four or five had been really good (I did stop eventually, I am glad to say) and also a couple of other series where only the first one had really been any good.

This left me with a whole raft of books that I have collected over many years and which I really loved when I first read them but I was not sure if I needed to keep them. Some I decided to part with. I loved the novels of Dick Francis and Ngaio Marsh in my teens and twenties but they really no longer appeal so that was at least thirty books gone in one go. I disposed of my Ed McBain, Tom Clancy and Clive Cussler because I really didn’t fancy reading them again – my tastes have changed and although I still like adventure and police procedurals these particular examples no longer attract me. That was about another thirty. I also disposed of some fantasy series that I had read once and enjoyed some years ago but which no longer suit me. I seriously wonder why I bought and kept so many of these books – did I think that there would be no new books to read ?

I realised too that I have quite a lot of books that I have kept because they are “good” books – normally I have bought these because I was studying them, they were chosen for a bookclub or because I felt that I should read them. I am only going to keep books that I love and will reread so “How Green was my Valley”, “Jane Eyre”, “Dracula”, “Germinal”, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, John Steinbeck and “The Secret History” by Donna Tartt went along with quite a few others.

This has left me with quite a few series and collections which I obviously enjoyed when I bought them and I feel that I will enjoy again but I am not quite sure – these have been added to the to be read pile thus increasing its size further. These are books by Patricia Cornwell, Robert Jordan, Rachel Caine, Michelle Sagara and others.

As you can see this is a work in progress. I have lots of books in my to be read pile which will help me make further decisions when I get to them – I don’t want to dispose of books which I have collected over the years and which I may find that I have to rebuy, but I also don’t want to keep books that I could pass on so that someone else can enjoy them. I am also now very hesitant before adding books to my shelves to be sure that I will read them again. I think I will take another year or so to work through all of those I still have some doubts about and by that time I will have reduced the books I own by about a quarter I estimate.

That’s the novels, of course, I still have four bookshelves of biography, history and other factual books I haven’t even started on yet !

Thank goodness you can never have too many electronic books – I wouldn’t like to have to start to cull those too …..