The Great Purge

In a perfect world, I would never discard books. I would save the ones I no longer wanted until just the right person walked into my life, and I could gift them the ideal book for their needs in that moment. (Maybe I’m a librarian manquΓ©…)

In this world, however, we have six bookcases and they are crammed. There are stacks of books on the piano. There are more in the bedroom. There are yet more in the living room, and have I mentioned the study, the bathroom (repository of magazines), and the kids’ room? It’s time to purge.

Happily, books have more lives than cats. A few of mine will go to friends and neighbours. Most will go to my local library’s Neverending Book Sale, which fundraises for the library. But still, it hurts.

I love paper books because they contain powerful memories of when I acquired them (I’ll never part with the first book my husband ever gave me – Middlemarch – although I have 2 other editions of the same book), my priorities at the time (a hideous and battered 1970s paperback copy of The French Lieutenant’s Woman reminds me how tight my budget was as I began my fourth year as an undergrad), and where I read them (a train ticket from Manchester to London is a bookmark that reminds me of what I was reading on our last trip to England).

Some books are easier to shed: literary theory that I held on to, because I couldn’t quite believe I’d escaped the academy; books I haven’t thought about in years; books I know I’ve read but whose content has leaked from my brain. But for the most part, getting rid of books feels like an eviction. I hope the little darlings (even the ones I disliked and disrespected) don’t take it personally. And I hope they find new homes soon. But they’ve got to go.

How do you manage your book collections? And how do you feel about getting rid of books?

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19 Responses to “The Great Purge”

  1. Amy Kennedy says:

    It makes me shudder. Yet, I only have so much room. And, like you I give mine either to the library or (because I work at the library) to our outreach program — which brings them to the women’s prison. I know someone else will enjoy them.

    But there are two shelves, or four (maybe five), of books which I won’t ever get rid of — Books that are so varied, romances, classics, children’s, yet every last one of them invokes such memories. Sorry, apparently I could write a post on this as well!

    Suffice to say, I feel your pain!

  2. MelodyJ says:

    I donate mine to the Salvation Army or Good Will. I feel god because it will go to someone who may not be able to buy the book at it’s current price. If I didn’t like the book or no longer need it it’s a heart break. But if I did like it it’s a little harder but doable.

  3. Kate says:


    I have not had a bookshelf since 2006, when I packed my stuff up to head to England for the (hopefully) first time. Since then, my books have lived in my parents’ or brother’s basements, and when I live in a new place, I just have a gradually accumulating stack (eg. I’ve been living at The Aunt’s since August, and I have, oh, let’s say 20 books, plus the ones that RJ loaned me, plus those I had with me when I got here). When I packed up to move out West last year, I have 15 rubbermaid bins. Nine of them were books.

    I’ve only ever culled once: on the way home from Australia, and mostly I’m okay (I was only 13 and hadn’t taken anything with me in the first place), but I lost a complete Australian print of the series “Tomorrow, When the War Began”, and I didn’t realize at the time how bad that was.

    I dream of having a WHOLE ROOM for books. And…sleeping in the kitchen, or something. I can’t wait until they are out of the bins and on shelves where I can pet (see) them on a regular basis.

    As for clearing them? I HAVE NO IDEA. That is, basically, my nightmare. πŸ˜‰

  4. JaneE says:

    I am very, very picky about winnowing out my book collection…I have books all over the house- in drawers, in a dozen boxes at the bottom of our staircase, in bookshelves, in stacks on every available surface… But when forced I will ‘rehome’ a few of my seven copies of ‘Jane Eyre’ to a local thrift store. (Of course, when dropping off said books I will often just pick up another ten to replace them! lol)

  5. I grew up in a house with books everywhere. My house has bookshelves and now that I’m on committees and blog, I get even more books than I know what to do with! I donate a lot of mine if I don’t want to keep them. I feel bad not keeping my books, but donating them helps I think. I donate to juvenille facitlies (there’s an extended care place I donate to as well as a court that has books for the kids to take). I also donate them to teachers in smaller rural areas who can’t afford to have a large classroom library or a school library. This helps me with getting rid of my books because I know they’re going to be in the hands of readers.

  6. helena :D says:

    i sell my almost new books that i don’t read, or have read on amazon! best way & it’s a good way to earn some money! πŸ˜€

  7. Michelle says:

    Why do you think we’re renovating the basement? : ) I can delay the purge even longer… though I have no problems discarding BAD BOOKS. Yes, there are some in my life. I refuse to pass those on to people I care about. Off they go!

  8. Chin Yen says:

    I put them in charity bins. I used to have a sentimental attachment to my outdated law books, especially those I spent a huge fortune on, but these are now thrown into the recycling bin – quite ruthlessly.

    My bookcases and shelves are still full though….

  9. Carenza Young says:

    I don’t really through books out, but when I do they go to Oxfam. My room is covered in books and not just mine. I don’t know how I manage it but all my books fit at I’ve still got a few places where I can keep more, my locker at school for example. If only my mum was that good. My house is like a library. Books are everywhere and my mum has to keep cleaning out (if I don’t get there first) because she always buys more. Then they go to Oxfam.

  10. Ying says:

    Wow – book purges bring out new commenters! Hello, everyone! I love your donation ideas (hadn’t thought of women’s prisons before, Amy, and I love the idea of rural schools, GBTQ). JaneE, I also bring home books when I should be getting rid of them. Sometimes, one really needs multiple editions of a book. Kate, my ultimate fantasy is of a library with built-in bookshelves and a LADDER. But even then, the Excess Book Quandary remains. Maybe we can all sneak them into Michelle’s cavernous, newly reno’d basement…

  11. rayray says:

    i give mine to bookworm.

  12. Mara A. says:

    *shocked, horrified, nauseated, sympathetic expression* Oh, those poor books!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I do understand the need to downsize, but my mind cannot fully grasp evicting books, and my immediate reaction is always horror, and I think it always will be. It must have been really hard to do.

    This is one area where I am weak – I could NEVER get rid of any of my books, even if my house was wall-to-wall and floor-to-ceiling. I have replaced paperbacks with hardcovers, true, but that’s because I have a vendetta against paperbacks. My collection has not, thankfully, gotten so big that it cannot be contained in the one room which has been designated the library, but I know that one day it will happen, and I think the only way I will ever be able to manage my collection is if I just build an entirely new house specifically for it. πŸ˜‰

  13. Ying says:

    Mara, confess: you live in a Tardis! That’s the only possible explanation for never having to purge books. πŸ˜‰

  14. Rissa says:

    There is a small non-profit private school that I give my old kid books to. Also to charities. It pains me to lose them, but it reassures me that someone else will enjoy the books I loved as well!

  15. Mara A. says:

    I wish I did, then I would never have to think of someday doing a Great Purge. πŸ˜‰

  16. Ying says:

    Precisely! Thanks for stopping by, Rissa.

  17. vxhhh says:

    luckily i have never had to give any away[i just put them in the loft] although i have a pile which i don t want and i would like to give away but i don t know where and who to donate them to

  18. Ms. Yingling says:

    If you think it’s hard to get rid of your own personal books, try weeding a library that has been around since 1969. Must. Keep. Cavanna’s. Jenny. Kimura. (And did.) but for some other titles, they just have to go. If I’m buying 600 books a year, at least 200 have to go. (And a new one we’ll be getting soon if the newest Agency book! I’m delaying an order just so I make sure I get that one!) Be strong!

  19. Ying says:

    Ooh – I just read your post. Thanks for putting it in perspective! Are you ever tempted to take home orphans?

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