To cull or to keep, that is the question…

Any book lover will know that there is nothing better than getting your hands on a new book. It might be the latest novel from your favourite author, the book that everyone is talking about or a newly discovered gem from a charity or second hand book shop. Adding it to the book case or to the toppling TBR pile it soon becomes part of the furniture (unless it’s a library book of course, otherwise you’ll also be adding to huge return fine to the collection). It might be read immediately, or else sit languishing in its place until the mood takes you and that is the book you must read.

Then there is what to do with the book once it’s read. Some of us will simply put it away, back on the shelf, or onto a shelf containing books that have been read. If that’s full it might go in a box under the bed, and when there’s no more space under the bed, into the garage, or wardrobe or any small nook or cranny. There are those of us who will simply drop it off at their local charity shop or donate them to friends or relatives. For the thing I’ve noticed about readers, we are either cullers or keepers.

Since I started blogging the amount of books entering the house has increased quite dramatically. I’m lucky enough to sometimes receive advance copies, which I am always grateful for and never expect to receive. I very rarely request a book so any books I do receive tend to be surprises that I make space for on the shelves. Then of course there are the books I buy myself. And yes, even though I do receive copies from publishers I still buy books. I have my favourite authors whose books I always have to buy. I see books talked about on social media and covet a copy so buy it when I see it, there are those books I need that I have to buy, in addition to those I just want. I trawl charity shops and local bookshops to see what catches my eye, and I’ll buy a book just in case I might want to read it one day – the fear still there that I may run out of things to read. And after all, authors don’t write books just for the love of the written word. For many this is their only income so by buying books I help in my own way. And I can even do this by borrowing from a library as an author receives a small royalty every time one of their books is borrowed.

Until very recently that flow of books was one way. My house is very much the Hotel California for books, they can check in but never leave. I would occasionally part with one, lend them to people who would even less frequently, never return them. There may be some where I had accumulated more than one copy, so those I would pass on.

I admire those who can easily shed themselves of a book once it’s fulfilled its purpose. It has entertained for those few hours or days and now is to be moved on, passed on to someone else to discover and enjoy. There is something freeing about not having the old overtaking the new, and of course ebook readers never have to worry about the possibility of being killed by their toppling book collection.

However it began to dawn on me that I may have too many books (no there is no such thing and yes I have known for a long time that I have many, many years worth of books dotted around the house). My husband had kindly surprised me with a reading room. After turfing the kids out of their playroom (for playroom read toy dumping ground and to be fair they play in every other part of the house other than that room…), he chose me a lovely new carpet, and furnished it with a beautiful desk and, the best bit, a wonderful set of double shelves. Now came the fun part, filling those shelves. There I was happily day dreaming that the books I currently have would fill perhaps three quarters of the space and that I’d have room to grow the collection. It soon became apparent that I would need much more than the reading room could hold. So then it was decided that the wardrobes in the spare bedroom could turn into bookcases (I manage with fewer clothes, but fewer books, never). It was all planned, I’d be able to rescue the books under the bed and those languishing in the garage – checking for spiders obviously before I moved them into their new home. So the great move began. And it seemed to be going well. I started a shelf for unread books and one for read novels. Then I had to expand both, so some were sorted into fiction, non-fiction and classics. Then, alphabetised. Then they started to be double shelved. Then just thrown on where any random space could be found. And still there was about half left to be moved from the garage.

(The reading room – this picture is now very out of date as those shelves are not so neatly packed – it’s more like book jenga at the moment)

I could avoid it no longer. A cull was inevitable. But how was I to choose? Yes I may have had that copy of Tara Road for approximately 10 years and still no read it but how knew when I might have a Maeve Binchy emergency. I know I may have stopped reading the Scarpetta series a gazillion years ago but those battered paperbacks might be worth some money. But away they must go.

I had already rediscovered books I’d forgot I had. Some of these I of course wanted to read immediately. Others I soon realised I probably never would read, especially as I couldn’t even remember how long I had them.) Some I had read but kept in case I would ever read them again. I realised I probably never would, even if I did manage to read every single unread book I owned. So into the clear out bag they went (after of course, checking on the internet that they weren’t actually super rare and therefore super expensive first editions).

After much deliberation I managed to cull around 40 books, no mean feat for a first time culler like me. Feeling rather pleased with myself I popped them all in a large bag and moved them firstly downstairs, then into my car to be dropped off at the charity shop. There they remained for many weeks until I brought them back into the house again after I had to empty the boot of the car. Then after complaints that putting them in a bag for people to trip up over was not technically getting rid of the books I did what any normal adult would do – gave them to my mum. Who said she would take them to the charity shop – after she’d had a look through the bag first of course…


(parting is such sweet sorry…)

So I have now made the transition from keeper to culler. I know it’s not painful, I know I’ve forgotten half of the books I’ve given away already which just proves that I was probably never going to read them. And I know I can always buy the book again or borrow it from the library if I really do ever want to read one of them. Now I just need to tackle the rest of the books in crates in the garage. And I should probably make a stab at culling the ones I’ve crammed onto the shelves, if they aren’t packed in too tight that is….



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37 responses to “To cull or to keep, that is the question…

  1. We had a big cull a couple of years ago when we took big bookcases out our bedroom to redecorate. I couldn’t bear to put them back in as it looked so lovely and uncluttered. So out went loads of books and in came just one smaller bookcase. And like you say, I couldn’t even tell you what I put out!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Well done on your book cull! I’m very envious of your reading room, it looks lovely. I never got rid of books until a few years ago but then life changed and I had to let a lot of my books go. Since then I regularly have culls and I quite enjoy it now. I try to look it more as re-arranging my shelves and making room to display the books I love. It somehow makes it easier to get rid of the books I’ve enjoyed but know that I won’t read again, and the ones that I know I won’t ever read.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Jealous- I’d love a ready room, and to even full 40 books is impressive for a bookworm!

    Liked by 1 person

    • It sounded like a lot but when I told my husband he hadn’t even realised I’d got rid of any! The reading room is lovely but I don’t spend any time reading in there. I don’t want to get it messy! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Karen

    I love the Hotel California reference Janet. I’m a very reluctant culler although needs must sometimes – I ran out of shelf space a long time ago and I’m so envious of people whose books are neatly stored, in alphabetical order. Mine sit where they fit!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mine are partly like that and partly sorted into some order, in the loosest sense of the word. I’d be lying if I said there weren’t still piles of books next to the bed – mostly made up of books I’ve pulled off the shelves as potential next reads!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Great post. It’s always hard to know what to do with books that there isn’t really the space for. I’d love a reading room too. I nearly had one but we had a baby instead 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I used to be a keeper but after we changed the shelves in the lounge I found I had to do a little bit of culling. I was pleased with my foot-and-a-half of books that I’d finally decided to part with, then had another look at the shelves. In a flurry of inspiration I cleared another six feet of books.

    Now, like you, I’m lucky enough to get advance copies of books. All of which I’m grateful for, but not all of which I’ve agreed to review with the publishers/PR! I feel a certain sense of guilt in culling books which I’ve been sent, but they’re ones I’m really never going to read given the size of the pile of books I *do* want to (or have agreed to) review!

    I’ve not tackled the boxes in the loft, though they’ve been there untouched since we moved in 17 years ago…

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    • That is good going – culling all of those books! I agree I feel a bit guilty giving away books I’d received to review but I also feel bad receiving books I know I won’t ever read because they aren’t my kind of book. At least by giving them away they will be read – and who knows a new fan base for the author might be created. As for the books in the loft, just think of the fun you can have rediscovering them. Although some would say if you’ve not needed them for 17 years you could definitely give them away…


  7. Enjoyed that! We live in a studio flat which means storing books unfortunately isn’t an option. So I live with a TBR pile that comprises piles of books in all available spaces and, when you live and sleep in one room, there aren’t many of those. So I have to get rid of books on a regular basis – to libraries or charity shops or, in the case of proofs, in the recycling bins. I hate to do it but there’s no option. The alternative is to appear on a Channel 4 programme on Hoarders. I can only say that shedding the books you know you’ll never read again is no bad thing. Save the space for the books you know are precious.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. This is BRILLIANT! Though I don’t think I’m ready to cull too many yet!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Excellent post – alas I haven’t got beyond dreaming of a cull. “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single person in possession of a giant stock of books, must be in want of a cull.” And few people have as many *bad* books as I do.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s a big step to take 🙂 It was made a little easier by the fact that I’ve found some books I have more than one copy of. The duplicates can be culled with little guilt and I have technically got rid of some books 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  10. I keep special books only. I often read proofs and then buy the finished copy if I’ve loved it. I keep books that are signed and dedicated to me, I keep books that have a quote from me in them.
    I have a lot of my childhood books too.
    I have over 1200 unread paperbacks, and one tiny spare room, so keeping every book that I’ve read is impossible. Nor do I really want to.
    I love passing books on, they go to my hair salon, the girl who does my nails, to my Yoga class, to the charity shelf in my local Co-op, and to the Hospice that I work in.
    A x

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, keeping the special ones is important, the signed ones and the ones with quotes in. I also like the idea of giving them to places other than the charity shop. I did win some children’s books that I donated to the local children’s hospice and I’m planning on seeing if the hospitals and libraries near me would like any more.


  11. I had a massive clean out finally this January because of our big move. I hated to do it but needed to do that I didn’t bring so much with us, as we also downsized in our house size.

    Liked by 1 person

    • A move is perfect excuse to cull. One I didn’t use when we moved, hence the books still piled in boxes in the garage. I guess at least now you have a collection that’s comprised of the books that mean the most to you 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Oh, dear, you speak for all of us about parting being such sweet sorrow. I do try to regularly clear out books I’ve read and don’t plan to reread – the local library is now accepting donations once more, or else the charity shop. But my shelves are still overflowing and I do have many boxes up in the attic…

    Liked by 1 person

  13. I love this post Janet! I used to be a keeper and now I’m a culler I turned my office and book room into a playroom for my grandchildren but wish I had t bothers as they do the same as yours do! I now have 2 shelves in my spare bedroom and mainly keep the signed copies or ones I’m quoted in and books I have loved too much to pass on.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Lucky you to have a reading room…

    My book habit is largely ‘hidden’ thanks to e-books HOWEVER as a general rule, I don’t keep books. I don’t have room, I’m not big on re-reads (I like to think I am but when I look at what’s on my shelves, I haven’t reread 99% of them).

    So, my rules for keeping – if I’ve given it 5/5, it stays (maybe 3 or 4 books a year get 5 stars from me). If it’s signed by the author, it stays. Everything else goes. Without exception. I pass books on to friends and say “I don’t want it back, keep passing it on” or, for books that no one I know wants, I take to my local charity shop (which I think is frequented by like-minded people because it always has lots of good books!).

    Liked by 1 person

  15. I currently have 3 big bags of books that should have left the house many moons ago but I’ve resolved to finally take them to the charity shop on Tuesday. Partly due to needs moist as DD and her hubby are moving back in!!

    Liked by 2 people

    • You see, I’m incorrigible. I just want to have a look through those bags and see if there’s any I want to read 🙂 At least your daughter moving back means you have to finally get rid of them. So technically it wasn’t your fault that you had to 🙂


  16. I used to rely on my friend’s annual cancer fundraiser to trigger a cull but she’s stopped that now consequently the shelves are a wee bit overloaded. Your reading room looks lovely, Janet. A nice little oasis of calm and a labour of love!

    Liked by 1 person

  17. I’m a culler! I rarely keep a book once I’ve read it. I was a culler long before being a book blogger. Which has for me as well significantly increased the amount of books coming in. I enjoy passing on books to someone else who might enjoy them. If you have a hard time, I highly suggest rehoming your books to a Senior Living or nursing home. They always appreciate adding to their library.

    Liked by 1 person

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