Out With The Old, In With The. . . Maybe Not

Since I’m between projects right now, the handwriting is clearly on my study wall.  It’s time to clean off my bookshelves.  Weeks ago I took a photo of my desk and posted it here. While some may accuse me of doctoring it, the truth it, the mess was really that bad.  Papers stacked everywhere.  Magazines with articles I was sure I needed.  Keychains and paper clips, business cards from strangers I don’t remember.  

Unfortunately things did not improve right away since finishing Sunset Bridge took priority.  Immediately afterward,  the holidays asserted themselves, then a trip to Florida.  Back now and finally running out of excuses, this week I began the process of clearing my desk top.  Then it was time to tackle the bookshelves.  With this, of course, comes the obvious question.  What do I keep, and what should I give away?  And what is so out of date, so dog-eared and forlorn, that it really must go in the trash?

Books are, of course,  a completely different dilemma from clothing.  I’m guilty of keeping things in my closet that are so out of date I’d be embarrassed to donate them to charity, but clothes are, well, “things.”  Inanimate.  At most, reflections of who we are.  Books?  Books are imaginations set free, ideas to ponder, threads of human experience that bind us together.  They are also friends.  And who easily, willingly, relegates friends to library book sales or trash bins?

I set about making choices.  First I divided my library into piles.  One was for books I’d finished.  Another for books I’d intended to read and had never gotten around to.  Piles of books I’d started and books that had appeared on my shelves for no good reason.  Finally, with piles all around me, I began to cull. 

Oddly enough the easiest to give away were my book club reads.  I belong to an online group of authors who read one book a month and talk about it from a writer’s perspective.  Were it not for them, I would have missed many amazing finds.  But one after the other, I relegated those books to the book sale.  We had read them.  We had dissected them.  And for the most part, whether I liked them or not, it was clear I wouldn’t read them again.  So out they went.

I was surprised that of the books I’d read, few were “keepers”, a word readers use freely.  I pondered this, afraid I was making a mistake.  Yet wasn’t I “keeping” the ones I had loved where they mattered most?  Not on my shelves, but in my mind and heart?  I wanted to share them and give other people the pleasure I’d enjoyed.  I wanted to “keep” them in circulation.  And I wanted to “keep” an empty space on my bookshelf for the next book I would love. 

The hardest to give away were the books I hadn’t read.  Some, clearly, were books I never would.  They were in genres I don’t enjoy or by authors I had tried before without success.  Some were so outdated they no longer held promise.  Those were easy.  But what about all the others?  Certainly among those unread volumes were books so absorbing, so enlightening, that when I finished reading, my world would be a different place.  Who could toss out a book with that potential?

Somehow I made my decisions.  Two boxes of books were taken downstairs to be given away.  And my bookshelves?  Suddenly I can see all the titles.  I can reach in and pluck out a book and know it’s one I’ve kept for a reason.  By reducing my library, I’ve opened the door to a happy reading future.

In the end the gnashing of teeth, the rending of clothing, was worth it all.  Still, as I made my selections, I thought about my eReader and all the books it will hold.  No bookshelves to clear, no choices to make.  Enjoy a book?  You can keep it forever.  Dislike a book?  You can delete in seconds.  No fuss, no dust, no bother.  No boxes to cart to the book sale.  So maybe before long “out with the old” will be obsolete, right along with hardcovers and paperbacks.  In the meantime, I’ll enjoy the books I own and all the secrets they’ve yet to tell me.  I’m looking forward to each and every one of those that made the final cut.


  1. Marna on February 4, 2011 at 7:38 am

    A problem with the eReader? You can’t hand a book you’ve just read to a friend and say, “You’ve got to read this!” A nice feeling, whichever end of the transaction you’re on.

    Congratulations on cleaning off your shelves!

    • Emilie Richards on February 4, 2011 at 7:48 am

      Though you can tell them to buy it. That’s an author’s dream. But no, that’s definitely a downside. How many boxes of book did you ship when you moved, though?

  2. Nancy Badertscher on February 4, 2011 at 1:11 pm

    You’ve given me a new way to look at my bookshelves. I thought I did a pretty good job shortly after moving here last summer of collecting books to donate to the library, but it might be time to do it again with your ideas in mind. DH is really the one who could use your ideas!

    So how do you like reading books on your eReader? We’ve not gone that route yet but are wondering about it.

    • Emilie Richards on February 4, 2011 at 3:27 pm

      I like it and was surprised how quickly it felt “normal.” I knew I was adjusted when I reached out to try to turn a page the traditional way. That said, I still enjoy the feel of a paper book in my hands, too. Glad the book sorting made sense. Now to tackle my resesarch volumes.

  3. gayle on February 7, 2011 at 8:19 pm

    i just discovered you when i was lent ‘whiskey island’ and devoured it. now i see there is a sequel! have to get to that next. i was pleased at your writing because most of what i see out today is trash. i’m really a 19th century authoress-type (ex. austen) i have recently discovered (via an antique bookshop in nova scotia) an authoress named rosa nouchette carey that i have been loving. i order her books online and will keep them ALL. she writes what i call ‘sweet books’.
    keep up the good work, please, and i will endeavor to read more of your past books. ironically, i was just cleaning out my bedroom bookshelves….must be the month for that. this, before i even discovered your blog.
    and yes, i am a devotee of e.e. cummings……thank you!

    • Emilie Richards on February 7, 2011 at 10:08 pm

      Welcome, Gayle. Any e.e. cummings fan is always appreciated here.

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