Why yes….you can have too many books.

Mark Medley’s piece Confessions of a Book Hoarder a couple of weeks ago in the National post got widely picked up, seeming to incite a torrent of stories and “me-too” articles. There seems to be a collective nerve that was struck by this piece, and I’m one of those who felt a twinge.

I sent Mark an email detailing my experiences.  I reproduce it here for my reading public, with the addition of a few links for those wishing to purge (or, God forbid, add to their collection.)


We are kindred spirits.  I refer to “my little book problem” when it comes up in conversation.

I’ve been buying books for 30 years.  Over time, my husband and I moved from a small apartment to a larger apartment, to a small house, then larger house, so we just carted them along with us. A corporate move to the US had me get rid of, oh, a quarter of them. But then the bounty that is The States (Barnes and Noble within walking distance from home, Amazon Prime, Paperback Swap, BookMooch, cheap Media Mail postal rates) saw my collection grow even more.

We moved back to Toronto and into a small house and I simply HAD to get rid of a lot of books.  I came up with the following purging scheme:

Get rid of anything that:

  1. I have read before and am not likely to want to read again
  2. I have not read before, is not likely to get anywhere near the top of my to-read pile, and is available at the library
  3. Is non-fiction and out of date (e.g., atlases, dictionaries, general interest computing and science books…)
  4. Doesn’t “fit” anymore…world-views I no longer hold, out-of-date fashion, hobbies I no longer do, etc.
  5. Is non-fiction and information is easily available online
  6. Has yellowing pages, cracked spine, or would otherwise be annoying to read (and is available to buy/borrow). A lot of my old Penguins fell into that category.
  7. Is moldy, damp, or otherwise unhealthy.  (You’d think that goes without saying….well, maybe not YOU, but most people.)

I am trying very hard not to bring new books into the house, other than from the library, onto my Kindle, or books that I will want to make notes in or otherwise mark up. I permit books that I’m desperate to read but for some reason are not available at the Toronto Public Library (very few in this category, I must say) and reference books that will not age. (I have a small collection of local history books.)  As I read books from my shelves, I give them away as per #1 above (often via BookCrossing and/or to my local Value Village or library book sale.) Anything else that slips in under the radar (gifts, impulse purchases, freebies) is submitted to the one-in-one-out policy.

I’d like to get down another 30% but I can only purge at a certain speed. The shelves are no longer double-stacked, and I’m getting to a comfortable place with my books.  



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