Here's how to decide whether to keep a book or get rid of it



The link from the blog post leads back to the blog post.

Of course this assumes that local libraries are (a) local, (b) good, and © accessible.

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This is the one that makes it hard for me to get rid of books, because I never know what I’ll need, or when. My copy of, say, James Merrill’s The Changing Light At Sandover has most of the criteria for being released into the universe. And I’ll add another: it’s THICK. Getting rid of it would free up space in a place where I’m double-shelving.

The chances are extremely good that even if I do need it I’ll be able to wait until the libraries I have access to are open. But there’s always this doubt in the back of my mind that I might be writing something at one am and really need to look up that one part…


If you have complaints or accessibility issues with your local library, an inquiry to those issues is likely to net a great deal of help. Libraries, at least all the ones I’ve worked in, are working hard to provide outstanding service and capture eyeballs in the face of declining support from lawmakers. Hell, in many cases they’ll just send items to your house and you don’t have to visit the building at all.

Generalizations are what they are, natch.

As for getting rid of a boo…NOBODY GETS RID OR THROWS OUT OR OTHERWISE FUCKS WITH MY BOOKS. Because if they do I’ll write in even bigger caps, or become rabidly violent. Get rid of a book? Are you fucking kidding me?

I tend to go through the selection process somewhat carefully so the stuff I’ve got is the stuff I want to keep. Books are purchased for a reason, even the impulse buys. I’ve learned to keep a tight lid on the purchasing of books as it would most likely develop into a monster if unchecked. Some stuff is purchased to give away and would never, ever be allowed to join the home library. And I have loaned stuff out that I’m waiting for, and A. knows that he should have returned that fucking Tufte book by now, may be time to play rock versus windshield.


I go through a good house purge about once a year. My criteria is: have I used this in that last year? If not - it goes. It feels brutal but I always feel better when it’s done.


…And that’s where this system breaks for me. I really do intend to read all of the books I’ve accumulated. Someday. When I have more time to read than I do now. Not sure when that’s going to be, but I have faith that it will happen. :smile:


Living in Portland, there’s an option for “getting rid” of books that is very pleasing: Selling them to Powell’s.


If you can find a digital copy on google books or other, toss it!

I read that people think of books as part of their identity - how they portray themselves to others, memories of who they used to be, etc.

I also read a tip that said, you can always buy something back cheap on ebay etc., so think of it as rent for your stuff and let someone else hold onto your clutter for you.

That tip worked great for me, moved recently and dropped 40 boxes of books, albums, dvds etc.


Also, just because your local library has it now, doesn’t mean they’ll have it later. My local library has a bad habit of getting rid of their obscure items, the things that are out of print and difficult to find in bookstores.


The “keep” criteria neglected: If I want it on my bookshelf to display something about myself to visitors. Like those specialized interior designers and the fake spines for law offices, but for real.

Is that shallow? I always take a look at the bookshelves when I go to someone’s house. It’s not a guarantee that they spend their time with Proust rather than Danielle Steele, but at the least they know what they’re supposed to be reading.


You’re assuming that I have a local library.

I have multiple sensory issues. I have to deal with intense sensory bombardment every time I go anywhere and every time a garbage truck comes by, and every time any truck backs up here. So my idea of local has narrowed down.

I know libraries may be an exception, but in general institutions run by abled people don’t care about accessibility for disabled people, and they may put up signs saying that they are accessible, when they aren’t, and they often require pain calls to report accessibility problems, although they sometimes allow e-mails to report accessibility problems, with an automated reply explaining that they no longer use this e-mail.

I also do tabletop gaming, which requires lots and lots of historical research, and for certain ancient and medieval topics, can require good estimates of the sizes of towns and armies, and often requires specialist works for that.

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Another way is to take part in Book Crossing, where you can release books into the wild and read what others have contributed.


Is it a book, we keep it. If it’s not, eventually it can go to goodwill. Simple. KEEP ALL THE BOOKS!!!

[edited to add] But seriously, if for some reason, we had to pare down our book collection, that would be tough. I’d have to figure out what books I need to keep for my work, and which ones can go. That’s just my grad school books - that doesn’t even get to our regular collection of books…


Oh, that’s a neat service/exchange system!

I have no idea where you live, but you could try a books-by-mail service if it is available. Such as:


You reveal my guilty secret… I arrange my books based on vanity, essentially peacocking my tastes and attitudes to visitors. Guy de Maupassant is not likely to be down at childs-eye level, nor is Charles Schulz likely to be five feet off the floor. The bookshelves visitors see make me look far more erudite than I really am, with my vast collection of pre-1970 science fiction de-emphasized and my much smaller collection of philosophical, religious and art books well to the fore.

Yeah, it’s probably shallow. Or at least in my case it is, since I’m kind of embarrassed by it and would never have admitted it if you hadn’t done first.


No! The books stay!

That said, the tweet from Taleb included in the article sounds about right. There are certain kinds of non-fiction books that I really don’t think of as books; I’m thinking of Java reference manuals from the late 90’s and the like. I’m completely fine with tossing those.


My decision process is much simpler:

Do you own the book?

If yes - Keep the book

If no - buy the book



I used to worry about acquiring books faster than I could read them, but then I read Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town, which poses this (rhetorical?) question: “What’s the point of a houseful of books you’ve already read?”

What indeed? I’ve not had even a whiff of anxiety about all my unread books since.

I will occasionally toss books that I don’t want or need, but I’m usually pretty deliberate about what I buy so there aren’t too many of those. I suppose most of mine fall into “intend to read it” category, regardless of whether or not that intention is entirely reasonable.


Later reference, usually.