“One who cannot cast a treasure away at need is in fetters”. –Aragorn, The Lord of the Rings
Why I Try Not to Collect Books
I own a lot of books. I don’t deny it. Still, I regularly take time to look over my collection and to remove titles. Typically I donate them to teacher-friends who will use them in their classrooms or to the library, where they will either be added to the collection or sold at a book sale. Sometimes I donate them to a Little Free Library or free book swap, or to an organization that gives free books to children. Parting with a book is often a wrench. I may have read it and enjoyed it. I may have never read it, but hope to one day. Or I may have dreams of keeping it to share with others. Still, I only have so much space, and something must go.
However, I have a more compelling reason to part with my books, other than the lack of space and the hardship of moving dozens of boxes of books. I feel strongly that I ought not to keep books that I know I will not reread or that I may never get to . I don’t, after all, really need all these books. I own plenty enough to keep me busy, as well as access to the library, to Project Gutenberg, and to free Kindle books (no Kindle needed–there are apps for laptops, phones, and tablets). But many people do not have the same access to books that I do. So it seems incumbent upon me to share what I have.
It can be easy to forget that not everyone is an avid reader and not everyone grows up surrounded by books. But in 2016, Susan Neuman and Naomi Moland published a study of book deserts, neighborhoods where books were not sold in stores and thus not readily available to families. Because many impoverished families do not use libraries (because of the fear of fines or suspicion of government) and because they may not have Internet at home, they face more challenges in attaining literacy skills than others. But reading for pleasure is associated with increased educational performance and having books in the home can increase the level of education a child attains. So it seems obvious that, even if I don’t live in a book desert, I should be promoting literacy in my community. I do this, in my own small way, by sharing my books with others.
As the months go by, the number of books I own is dwindling (though more always creep in the door). I find it increasingly difficult to part with books as I removed less treasured volumes long ago. But I have taken to reflecting on Aragorn’s words to Pippin, when Pippin admits how hard it was for him to leave his Elven-brooch behind: “One who cannot cast a treasure away at need is in fetters.” I never want to feel like I am buried under my possessions, or burdened by them because I have nowhere to store them and no way to transport them. So, each time I choose a book to donate, I take a deep breath and remind myself that I do not need this book. Life will go on. I will always find other books to treasure and enjoy. I will buy them or borrow them or be gifted them. But, in the meantime, I still have the power and the freedom to let possessions go.
How I Remove Books from My Bookshelves
As I admitted at the start, I actually do own a lot of books–but I have given many away, as well. These are some of my secrets in attempting to let go:
I read the book and then immediately donate it.
If I never alphabetize it on my shelf, I can’t become attached to it! This works for me because when I buy books, they tend to be from library book sales, so I don’t have to feel bad about spending fifty cents and then getting rid of the book. However, you can also do this with gifts if you think the giver won’t be offended.
I Donate Books I know I can Easily find again.
If I know that the book is still in print, at my library, or otherwise easily accessible (free online because out of copyright, for instance), I will let it go. I know that I don’t need to own a copy of a book that isn’t rare.
I am honest about my chances of reading or rereading the book.
I have owned books for ten years or more that I really want to read at some point. However, after ten years, I have to admit to myself that it’s quite possible I’ll never read the book at all. If I feel that strongly about reading it once ten more years have passed, I’ll just have to track down another copy. There’s no point in hauling all these books around “just in case.”
I am honest about the chances of other people reading the books.
Sometimes I think that a book might be nice to have to loan out or to keep in the family or something. But chances are any kids are going to be reading their own books. If I’m not totally in love with a book, I’m not going to keep it on the off-chance someone else will read it years from now.
Places to Donate Books
- Library Book Sales
- Little Free Libraries or Book Swaps
- Community Yard Sales
- Literacy Programs
Or, if you need more ideas, Briana previously wrote a post about eight places to donate your gently used books.
How do you decide what to remove from your shelves?