As a writer, my whole job is centred around books. To make a good writer,we have to be a good reader too. Which comes very easily for most of us. We love words, so we read, and then we write, and read some more.
But today I had an epiphany, thanks to an online news article. Today, I began to rethink my love of books, and see them as – dare I suggest it – clutter! It’s a love that can go bad, just like any relationship, and one which is better off managed.
Read the post first – Book end: Contest reveals the secrets of demolishing cluttering, by Michael De Groote, Deseret News National Edition.
In summary, Michael and work colleague Ryan Morgenegg ran a contest between themselves to bring in one book each day to declutter their book spaces at home. In the months of running the contest they both learnt a lot about the nature of their book lives, and the psychology sitting behind books.
The article also evidences tales from other book addicts which I’ll summarise below in bullets that struck me personally:-
- Ellen Jovin is quoted as saying “Books, for me, are a connection to the whole life of the mind.” She was consequently carting around 60 boxes of books on every move, but forced to rethink this when moving into a smaller apartment where “It was like a graveyard of books. Each one like a little tombstone showing what I have done in the past.”
- Alison Kero, a professional organizer, suggests books can be symbolic of larger issues in life, exampling the fact that many people buy books to improve themselves in some aspect of their life. And if that improvement fails? Then the book is kept as a symbol of that unfinished project, because nobody wants to admit they failed. They put the book and change on the backburner – unfinished. Books can be projects. Kero admits to forcing herself to finish a book she didn’t like because she saw the books in that way.
- Susan Tunises’ concept of BABLE – books acquired beyond life expectancy is also discussed in the article. Eventually many of us acquire more books than can be read during our lifetimes. Kero suggests we be honest with ourselves and calculate how many books we can read in a year. How much reading time do we really have?
- Steve Savage is quoted on respect for the book at time of purchase – “We should respect the book and what it can be.” Savage says when people buy books, they should consider how the book is going to eventually leave their possession as well. Its entire lifecycle through your world, as such.
Many of the approaches above have been circling around in my own thinking for some years now. I have a passion for books – shared, I know, with many writers. On Pinterest, we share all sorts of drool-worthy images of stacked home libraries showing collections of books and shelving installations the modest person could never possess due to lack of space, money or time.
I moved across the world 12,000 miles (at great cost) and back again with 75+ large boxes of books, putting Ellen Jovin (above) to shame. While living in the U.K. I had no opportunity to pare down or recycle my growing collection of books – there simply weren’t any second-hand book shops to take them to, nor did charities collect them. And it seemed too sacrilegious for me to toss a few into the paper recycling bin – I would picture those once-loved containers of tales being torn apart and made into egg cartons.
And when it came to giving them away, I found an odd thing. Two examples –
- As a newly pregnant woman I’d purchased some of the best parenting and child development advice books on the market at the time, read them once, then – as you do – applied what I needed to my life with my new baby, and moved on. Shortly after, a couple next door became pregnant, and had a daughter also. I offered them my collection of books, only read once. They refused.Most of the books were still current, and available in the local bookstores. They didn’t offer the information, but going out and buying basically the same books for themselves, new and fresh,was something they wanted to do, to invest financially in their “project”, to make it real for themselves.
- On our bookshelves at home is a collection of 10-20 technical manuals on my partner and my own (previous) career – technical software testing manuals. The books are well-known, expensive, and difficult to find. They still remain relevant to the industry (sadly, no huge changes have been developed on software testing methods over the years). As a test manager I took my resource library of these guides into my work for everyone to borrow and share. Some of those books would briefly be borrowed as a reference but then they would appear back on the shelf. And the same person would suddenly have their own copy of the same book on their desk.
- These books are practical guides to some of the methodology and process behind a job specification, but most of those skills can only be learned on-the-job and with experience. Once read and the knowledge applied, the manuals become doorstops. Yet every young tester with a bit of ambition wanted those same books, not shared through my free-use library, but as a copy under their sole possession. The books became a status and project symbol – ‘look what I might know that you don’t’. Owning their own copy of the book was a rite of passage and proof in front of their manager (me) that they were taking their career progression seriously by investing personally in it.
Here in Australia book give-aways (of ‘normal books’, not those above) is much easier. There exist actual second-hand book shops, and large charity bins on the local streets do take books. Oh, but the book fairs – run by another large charity – are the devil’s incarnate for book-whores. As a family, we might clean out 20 or so of our older unwanted books from the bookshelves, take them down to gift them for future fairs, then spend another hour browsing around the musty tables in the hall, and comeback with another twenty.
Secondhand fairs are much required, as new books found in bookstores over here, are extortionately expensive. There are not the 3 for 2 discounts that we found in supermarkets in the U.K. Despite that, we still spend hours in local and major bookstores, selecting our next reads. The price adds value and impact to our book purchase choices, and drives Australia as a nation to seek out cheaper options or formats to access their reading habits when possible.
We also, of course, have a local library we support on a monthly basis. More books. And of course, dare I suggest the advent of digital books has truly been my own undoing. Nowadays my To-Read pile is mega-BABLE. If I was an immortal, I’d still not have the time to read everything on that mountainous pile. But at least with digital books, I don’t have a problem with shelf-space.
Changes in Thinking
Over the last year or so, I have already begun putting into practice some rethinking of my book-as-possession habits. The family runs an unofficial book-in/book-out policy. Slowly, those 75+ boxes of old books are being sent out to another life, even the ones that remind me of my own childhood or the illustrated fairytale anthologies I kept because I read them to my baby daughter (she has no further interest in them, but ah, my memories are kept close everytime I see them).
We’re slowly getting down to keeping only the classics that we think our teenage daughter might need for either schoolwork, or technique books for hobbies and study. (Slow being the operative word).
As stated above,the prohibitive cost of new purchases in bookstores means we are really thinking about which books we want to buy (and in what format)–and keep purchases for special occasions or irregular shopping trips into the city. We have wishlists for new books forming. I am also painfully aware that I have to operate with a lifetime plan for any book coming into the house – what’s going to happen to it once read. Can I store it? Will it be reread or of use in the future? How will it be moved on?
Last year through the Goodreads Reading challenge, I set a goal of reading 50 books, and achieved it. It was double my 2012 target, but a real challenge for some months. This year I will set a reading target of 30, with the sub-level target of making most of them fiction – a decidedly harder target for me. Setting a reasonable reading target for the year is another good strategy for book-decluttering. Although I may not be setting writing resolutions (in public) this year, having a readolution makes better sense.
Last year I also began a practice – and failed at maintaining it fully – of keeping a book log. And for memorable books, an entire collection of book notes and quotes. This year I’m going to simplify the process, and just keep a list of books read, author, date and a quick rating.
Over the Christmas break we redesigned our daughter’s bedroom with a new study desk, shelving and decor. We also redesigned and decluttered our own master bedroom. Both rooms are much more spacious. The next step – an intention to declutter our entrance hallway which contains the three large bookshelves displaying all our books. I want them gone, and to see the walls. This means releasing many more old books I’ll never read again, to the wilds. It’s a longer term goal, but a good one. And those bookshelves hold other life-clutter too – little ornaments, smurf collections and the like. Decluttering bookshelves works across the board, not just for books.
Lastly, there’s the pattern forming to let go of reading a book just because it’s a project – to read to the end, just because I should. Last year I learned to let go of books I found difficult to “get into”. I tend to give it a good go – several chapters or up to 50-100 pages, but if the book doesn’t grip me, there are plenty out there on my to-read pile, crying out for attention.
So, here are my basic book-reading plans:
|Book Love Goals (or Readolutions) for 2014:
What’s your relationship with books like? Healthy or not, have you set any resolutions or goals for books and reading this year?
Credit: the graphic used is often-used Bookshelves by author and graphic artist Colin Thompson. It’s from his book ‘How to Live Forever’. Colin recently visited my daughter’s school to talk about his children’s books last year – my only regret is they wouldn’t let parents in to see him. So instead, I bought his book design as a gelaskin for my iPhone.