I mean, there are NEVER enough bookshelves. We all know this.
But this is a bit more of a specific “not enough bookshelves”, because my partner invited me to move in with them (EEEEEEEH *Kermit flail*), and their second question (after “really? You really want to?” with a huge smile) was “are we going to have enough shelf space?”
It’s a small flat. There’s limited wall space. Other things have to go on those walls (pianos, guitars, desks, paintings, a kitchen. Y’know, minor stuff.) There are a lot of shelves for such a small flat, yes, but…
Or at least, not enough for a pair of people who, between then, work in publishing AND love books AND hoard books AND have had sixty years to collect A LOT OF BOOKS.
I actually lucked out at this stage. I’ve had three house moves in five years, and each time, my book collection has been slowly whittled down – books that I’ve read and don’t want to read again; books that I hated; books that I once loved and now don’t feel I need to keep; books that I picked up and never will get round to reading. (I’m horribly realistic when it comes to my time.)
Basically, I now keep books with two criteria:
- will I NEED it again? And this is from the classical studies scholar in me; I do pick up books for reference.
- do I LOVE it? Do I want to keep reading and re-reading and have it because I will take it off the shelf again?
I have no time for “but I should have a copy.” I have no time for “but it’s a classic!” I have no time for “someone gave it to me and I feel guilty…”
Nope. If I don’t value it, then it’s gone.
(That’s not to say I don’t have a TBR pile and a pile of “ok, I’d like to read these” and a pile of “I have read this and enjoyed it but haven’t yet got round to making a decision on keeping it” but if someone gives me War And Peace (Extended Edition With Extra Notes) I will smile politely and thank them and give it to charity, because ain’t nobody got time for that.)
And that means that my books only fill one-and-a-half bookcases, unlike my partner’s, which fill most of the flat – and they haven’t quite finished bringing all their books from storage yet.
So… something gotta give. And it ain’t my books.
(Mutual decision, thankfully. I don’t want a relationship to end on THAT argument!)
My partner has never had to be ruthless with their collection. It’s actually a heart-breaking process to see someone have to learn how to choose: to decide what to keep, and realise that they physically can’t keep all the books they’d like to. But it’s also freeing – to realise that even if a book came with obligation and guilt and anxiety, to be able to say, “I don’t want this book on my shelf” or “not today” or “I’d love to, but I don’t have time” – it’s a curious kind of liberty.
To have to say to non-fiction: “If I need this subject again, will I come here? Or will I go on the internet/talk to someone/go to the library if, for whatever unexpected reason, I do need this topic?”
To have to say to fiction: “Am I seriously, honestly, going to prioritise this over the hundred other books that I actually WANT to read? Am I really going to pick this up over the one next to it? And if, at whatever future point I do decide I actually want to read it, could I just go to a bookshop/charity shop/the library for it?”
And it’s working! It’s been tough, but slowly – surely – the book collection is being whittled down to books that really need to stay; books that are loved, and wanted, and needed.
And the others: pre-loved, but they’re now off to better homes.
(P.s. if anyone wants some books… Oxford’s charity shops might have additions to their shelves soon!)
(P.p.s If anyone needs my new address, ping me a message on the usual channels – I can still get mail from my old address, so no worries if you’ve sent me anything. And Peter is staying with Jodie; I couldn’t split those two troublemakers up! My housemate is taking good care of them, by which I mean “catering to their every whim, as is proper when you are owned by two cats.”)