Elizabeth: Letting Go

It’s December here in the socially-distant writing castle, time both for boxes of Christmas decorations to go up and boxes of other stuff to go out.  That last part of the tradition started years ago when my son was little, when cleaning out the closet and toy box was a necessity if “Santa” was going to bring any new toys. Though the days of a big influx of toys at Christmastime have passed, my holiday traditions still include doing a bit of a clear-out as I do my holiday decorating.

Since my cupboards had already experienced covid-cleaning earlier this year, my holiday clear-out happened in the library–definitely not a normal action for me.  I still have books on my shelves that I read in high-school, and even some that I collected back in grade-school.  And I’m still annoyed about those boxes of books my dad “accidentally” took to the charity shop while I was off in college.  However, for whatever reason, I looked at my shelves full of books the other day (and the surrounding floor area too, for that matter) and thought, it’s time for some of you to go.

I’m pretty sure that’s one of the signs of the Apocalypse.

First into the charity box was a big stack of Phyllis Whitney books, some of the first books I acquired back when I joined the monthly Doubleday Book Club with some of my earliest earnings.  I remembered loving the stories back when I initially read them but that was . . . . many years ago.  I haven’t opened them since and, when I read the cover blurbs and plot synopses, I neither remembered the stories nor had any interest in reading them again.  Perfect candidates to be rehomed to someone else.  M. M. Kaye, on the other hand, retained her position on the shelves, even Death in Berlin (which still freaks me out a bit), because the stories have remained fresh in my mind.  Elizabeth Cadell retained her spot for the same reason.

Some books on my shelves had been there for years and haven’t been been re-read in quite some time.  If, when I picked them up, I remembered the stories and characters, then they generally stayed. If, however, I thought “I don’t remember this at all” or worse “that doesn’t sound interesting at all,” then it was off to the charity box for them.  Other books were part of a continuing series that I had lost interest in over time.  In that case, I kept the core of the series and jettisoned the rest.

Once I started culling books it was surprising how much easier the process became.  As a sign of just how far I transitioned from Keep All The Books, even a few Jennifer Crusie’s lost their place, but only because I had multiple copies of many of the titles.  Frankly, deciding which version of an individual title to keep came down to “which version has the biggest print” . . . yet another sign of the Apocalypse.

All in all, several boxes of books are now off the shelves and on their way to new homes.  I still have a vast number of books, but now I can be pretty confident that any book I pull of the shelf is going to be one that I’ll love.  That seems like real progress.

We’ve talked here on the blog before about what makes a story a keeper and clearing out my shelves has helped me refine my own list.  Outside of a small number of books that I’ve retained because I feel like I should read them, my shelves are full of:

  • Characters I want to revisit again and again
  • Settings that are interesting
  • Entertaining glimpses at people or places that no longer exist
  • Heroes who are flawed and endearing, but neither billionaires nor pirates
  • Heroines who are strong and capable, but not perfect
  • Stories that make me laugh
  • Stories that make me think
  • Stories that make me feel good when I read them
  • Stories that are timeless

What my shelves are not full of is:

  • Stories full of angst
  • Abusive characters
  • Stories that I can’t relate to
  • Characters I find unlikeable (Madame Bovary, I’m looking at you!)

I’m thinking this is a pretty good list for me to keep in mind, not just as I cull my bookshelves, but as I write as well.

So, what are your bookshelves (physical or virtual) full of?

6 thoughts on “Elizabeth: Letting Go

  1. Mine are full of the same selection of grade school (L.M. Montgomery) high school (Phyllis Whitney) and more recent acquisitions (Janet Evanovich, J.K. Rowling) as yours. The shelves are seriously rickety and really need to be culled for the sake of safety if nothing else.

    Not sure where to take them, though…

    • L.M. Montgomery isn’t technically still on the shelf, but those books are in a box right-next-to-the shelves with the other grade school books I didn’t want to part with that still get a re-read on occasion.

      As for where to take the culled books, I’m thinking of maybe driving around town and leaving groups of them in those little “Free Library” boxes, since the actual library won’t take anything now. It’s either that or set up an online store and re-sell them. 🙂

  2. I love this idea. I am of the “I will never get rid of a book” mentality, but I’m also doing the home purge. I like your process. I may bookmark this and come back when it’s time for me to visit this on my shelves. I really like the idea that if I don’t remember the characters or the plot or it just doesn’t seem familiar at all then out it goes.

    Speaking of abusive characters, I don’t like that either. I’m reading the most recent Anne Stuart book and it’s disturbing – several characters are very abusive. She’s trying to redeem one of them but the jury is still out. I have a couple of exceptions to the abusive characters. Some of the old 70’s and early 80’s romance novels still have the standard rape issue in them. One in particular that I can think of is Royal Seduction by Jennifer Blake. It starts with a rape, but the entire story is told from the heroine’s point of view and I found it interesting how Blake was able to convey what the other characters were thinking without being in those characters’ heads.

    • Michille, I’ve kept some Amanda Quick books that don’t have abusive characters but do have heroes that straddle that rape/consent line. The old “you say ‘no’, but for your own good I’m going to insist anyway” kind scenario. Fortunately those bits are brief and the heroine does a good job taking care of things herself.

      As for Anne Stuart, I had a number of her books on my Kindle that I got for free, but I recently deleted all but one of those as well, because it turns out that I am just not her reader. She is a wonderful writer, but the stories are just not my particular catnip.

  3. Oh, I applaud you! I just can’t get rid of a book unless it’s moldy or very damaged. Even if I don’t like it, I think, well, someone out there would find it perfect. I had dreams of being the regional English-language library for a few years, but I don’t think it’s very practical. Maybe if I open up a ukulele cafe, I could have a library backroom where people could borrow and drop off . . . .

    Anyway, I need to do something. I have hundreds of books that don’t say anything at all to me, and some dozens that actively make me think, “Ick.”

    I really like your culling process. The book should remind me of something — a good plot, an interesting twist, fantastic characters, crying-in-a-good-way, or something that speaks to me as a reader and a writer. And maybe a limit of . . . oh, say 50 “to be read” books on two shelves. I mean, what with Kindle these days, I don’t need to limit myself to 50 EVERYWHERE, just in the physical world.

    I should let go of that dream of being a librarian for now. Pack ’em up in boxes (NOT ALPHABETICALLY, stop it, stupid brain) and put them away for a time when I can do it, or if I find someone who has the space and the permanence for being a library resource.

    • I too have dreamed of running a library or reading cafe, and my books are categorized and alphabetized. I like the thought of your ukulele cafe with a library back room. I’d surely visit that.

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