We bookworms often talk about which novels deserve space on our keeper shelf. For some, it’s a symbolic expression referring to books we adore, whether we own them or not.
For others, the keeper shelf is an actual shelf or bookcase with a finite amount of space. In my case, it’s two plastic containers under my bed since the three bookcases in our spare room are mostly filled with my husband’s books (friends, never marry a fellow bookworm, unless you want to spend time fighting over whose books are more worthy of shelf space).
Our flat is tiny. When my American family comes to visit, they all exclaim over how “cute” it is. I know they mean tiny. So I’ve had to be rather ruthless about which books I keep and which I give away after reading.
In less than a month, though, I’m moving to the Netherlands. I’m spending the next few weeks clearing out all the stuff I’ve accumulated in my six years in London, and it’s a chore I never want to have to do again.
You see, I attach sentiment to objects. I remember where I bought them and how I felt at the time. Even if I haven’t ever used them, I convince myself I will one day end up wandering around my flat muttering, “Now, where did I put that left-handed paper stretcher? Surely I wouldn’t have given away such a useful item!”
Books, though, are even harder for me to give away. Because, unless they’re non-fiction, there’s nothing really useful about books. They are pure sentiment. They’re comfort, excitement, adventure and passion. They are love.
I tried to come up with a rational argument to get rid of some books, a kind of definition of a keeper – along the lines of “If I’ve read them more than once, then I’ll probably want to read them again. If I’ve owned them for years and only read them once, I probably won’t bother to read them again.”
But it doesn’t work. I end up sitting on the floor flipping through them all and getting caught up in the story-web the writer has created.
I also have dozens of books I got at this summer’s RWA National Conference which I haven’t read yet. Do I take the ones that look most interesting and leave behind the ones that don’t intrigue me? But I’ve already found new favorite authors I hadn’t expected. What if one of those books I don’t give a chance is a missed opportunity for me to discover a new keeper?
To make matters worse, there aren’t any bookstores selling romance in the small town I’m moving to. I’ll have to buy from online retailers or use my Kindle, which is a lovely solution to my space problems but definitely doesn’t compensate for an actual paperback.
One comfort I have is that any books I give away will go to a good cause. Most big charities in the UK have second-hand shops, called charity shops, which raise money for them. The charity I work for raises millions of pounds every year simply because people give them the stuff they no longer want and others come in to buy cheap goods.
So my novels will have a second life. They’ll be turned into money that can buy life-saving mosquito nets or water-purification tablets. Or, if I can bring myself to part with enough of them, perhaps an entire field hospital.
Do you have criteria for books you keep and ones you give away? Do you find it difficult to part with books? More difficult than with other objects?