Cutting my losses

This is post is not about how sucky the market is or money or anything like that. It’s about books. Specifically, the books that are on my shelves that I. Will. Never. Read. (Ever or Again, depending)

I started going over my overflowing shelves in an effort to clean them up, to dust, and to organize books so I can find them. As I did, I found lots-o-books that I have had for years. Decades even. That I have never read. Some I’ve started. Some I’ve gotten halfway through. These have been put-downers. And I kept them. Because I should read them. I own them. I should read them. The authors put a lot of hard work into these books and I want to repay that effort.

But.

I don’t wanna!!! You can’t make me!!!

I don’t have much time anymore. I have to choose reading carefully, and often it has to do with my job, or it has to do with research, or it has to do with comfort and joy. So I find myself going back to old favorites. Or going to authors that have never let me down. And I’m always buying new books, which means I’m creating an interesting traffic jam–I’m picturing plaque on the arteries right now, for some reason. Better than a bowel impaction metaphor, right?

So I have culled my shelves. Okay, belay that (yes, I’m currently working on a novel set in a sea-faring world, why do you ask?) I culled part of my shelves. I got rid of some. It’s too painful to get rid of all I need to, all at once. By got rid of, I mean they are right now in a heap in the middle of my floor and my good friend is on her way over to take them into custody, which means I’m getting to do a good deed.

Some of these books I have read. And I used to love them. But I just don’t any more. I think someone else might and at least a few of these books are long long long long long out of print. Some are actually pretty new and I hated them from the first moment I read them. Many of these authors are no longer writing, at least under these same names. Some are dead now.

So you can see, they are precious and unique and special, and yet I am not the one who can value them. I wonder, what do you do about buildup-o-books? Do you find shelf space? Do you actually read everything that enters your TBR pile?* Which books do you send out of your house?

*TBR pile–as if actually have a pile. My shelves are littered with unread things. I have no pile because I would be totally overwhelmed by the size of it. And what kind of dork puts footnotes in a blog? Well, I can tell you. Robin Mckinley does and if she can get away with it, I surely can. And none of her books are in my heap-o-cullings.

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  1. 1. Melinda

    I don’t really have a TBR pile; I just always know which books I have and haven’t read. I do have multiple shelves of “don’t-like-em”-books. My bookshelves are built in such a way that two rows of books fit (one in front of the other). I always have my “don’t-like-em”-books on the back.

    But I notice though that once in a while when I have nothing else to read (I’m a student, so I can’t afford getting new books as regular as I want), I’ll go through those “don’t-like-em”-books, take a couple out, start reading them again and discover ones I truly like this time round. In some cases it’s been a couple of years since I laid eyes on the book and I’ll end up getting more books of that writer.

    So far I’ve never done away with any of the books I’ve bought, but I guess that’s because I still have the room for them and am still very attentive to which books I buy. One of my New Year’s Resolutions is even only getting book from writers of books I already own.

  2. 2. Paul

    So you can see, they are precious and unique and special, and yet I am not the one who can value them. I wonder, what do you do about buildup-o-books? Do you find shelf space? Do you actually read everything that enters your TBR pile?* Which books do you send out of your house?

    Good question. I have a huge (~150 book) TBR pile.

    If a book remains too long in that pile and I get to the point that, looking through the TBR pile, that I no longer have any enthusiasm for reading the book, I get rid of it, unread.

  3. 3. SMD

    Goodness, if I had the time to read everything in my TBR pile I certainly would be broke buying books…wait, I already am broke from that.
    I love books. I’m a book-o-holic and I won’t go to a 12 step program to fix that because I don’t want to. Books rules. I actually bought “The Cipher” during Christmas because I wanted it. But back to the topic:
    I used to have a TBR pile of books that were nominated for some awards last year but ever since I started doing reviews for publishers and started Uni I just haven’t had the time to get to all my other books. That’s not to say I won’t ever read those, but I don’t know when I’ll read those. One day I will, but between reading works from publishers (or authors for that matter) and reading school work (which is quite a load because the UC system is in quarters rather than semesters, so you read about the same amount of work that you would in an 18-22 week semester in about 10 weeks) I just don’t have the time to read a lot of ‘free’ stuff. I write too, because I’m one of those peeps that wants to be a writer like all you guys.
    I don’t think I’ll get rid of them though. I paid for them and I do want to read all of them. Plus, I love books and I can’t bring myself to get rid of my vast collection of SF and F…it’d make me cry :(

  4. 4. Diana Pharaoh Francis

    Paul–oh yes! I’ve done that. Lost initial enthusiasm, which actually makes me sad. I really ought to read things when I’m all hyped up for them.

    SMD: I know all about the quarter system. Went to UCD. And now I teach on a block system–one class at a time, 3.5 intensive weeks of 3 hours a day in the class. Yep. Reading gets squidged in there somewhere between grading, prepping, writing and life. Watch me juggle the balls! Good luck on your writing and on this semester. And when you get to The Cipher, I hope you enjoy.

  5. 5. Samantha Ling

    What a coinkidink! I went to UCD as well!

    As for half-read books, I give those books to a friend who sells them in a church fair for a charity they run for families in need. The books I haven’t read in a very long time, I at least try the first ten pages and see if it catches my attention. If it doesn’t, I give them to the charity. I figure somebody else might like them!

  6. 6. Charles

    I have limited bookshelf space. So, I end up rotating what I have up on the shelves and what I have in boxes stacked up along the other wall in the same room. My shelves are either filled with my Science Fiction books or filled with Fantasy books. Currently, Fantasy owns the bookshelves.

    Most of my older TBR books are selections from when I had the Science Fiction Book Club membership thing. My newer TBR books are specific purchases I’ve made. And these are getting read, even if at a slower pace than in the past.

    As for those older TBR books, I don’t know if I’ll ever get to them. I’d like to think I will, but I don’t really know. There are times when they simply continue to get passed over an I end up reaching for re-read number 5 of another book. At this point, I’m not ready to give them away just yet.

  7. 7. Kate Elliott

    I don’t buy shoes, I buy books.

  8. 8. Karen Wester Newton

    I think a book unread is a sad thing, rather like a child unloved. I think it would be better to donate unread books to a library or even sell them to a used bookstore so they have a chance at finding love. Wait, if you change it to toys, wasn’t that the plot of Toy Story 2?

  9. 9. Randy Johnson

    Whenever I have cull my shelves to make room for new books, I donate the discards(I hate that word) to my local library sale.

  10. 10. Angelle

    Last year, for my New Year’s resolution, I vowed to read 20 books that I owned that I hadn’t read yet. I squeaked in, finishing book #20 of Dec. 30.

    It was fun and definitely useful – I was able to weed out some clunkers and I discovered some gems I never even knew I had! I know your pain, and wish you luck with your TBR, er, pile.

  11. 11. Stephen Hope

    About three years ago I switched almost exclusively to reading ebooks, partly because they are easier to get here (and cheaper, generally) and partly because I can’t fit any more paper books in my house. I keep all my ebooks on my computer, all the new ones get loaded on my pda to read. My TBR pile is being carried around in my pocket, on an sd chip. It has to be somewhere in 3 digits, but until the chip is full, there is no need to worry about it. And I can get a much bigger chip these days for just a few bucks.

  12. 12. Marie Brennan

    I try to go through periodically and pull out all the freebie books I’ve been given at World Fantasy or wherever, and give them each twenty or fifty pages in which to convince me I should keep them. If at the end of that span I’m not interested, then out they go.

    I also try to cut down on the ones I’ve read, but my biggest stumbling block there is my packrat husband. He wants to keep books that I’d be just as happy to see go, even though he hasn’t read them in years and probably wouldn’t like them still if he did.

    If this sounds brutal, though — I get rid of so many — bear in mind that we have nearly 2200 books as it is, and not enough space in which to put them.

  13. 13. Kelly McCullough

    I’ve gotten quite brutal about it. The move before the last one we got rid of several hundred pounds of books rather than move them. Since then, I’ve been culling pretty steadily. They still come in faster than they go out, but they do go out in large quantities. And, no I don’t finish every book on the TBR pile. A colleague of my wife’s gave us about 30 boxes of older F&SF (enough to keep me reading without ever buying a new book for a good decade) and in pure self defense I’ve gotten in the habit of giving a new book 10-30 pages. If I don’t like it by then, I’m probably not going to, and out it goes. And just saying that give me a cold shiver down my author spine.

  14. 14. Cameron Lowe

    I used to donate my excess books to the local library until I found out that their building is one step from being condemne. I’d rather be bogged down in excess books than have them get waterlogged in a sinking building.

    Does anyone know if there’s a national Friends of the Library or similar organization that accepts used books and donates them to libraries? I’d willingly pay the huge postage fee if I knew my books were going to libraries instead of someone’s dumpster.

  15. 15. Marie Brennan

    And just saying that give me a cold shiver down my author spine.

    Why? I mean, if you were judging them based on the first para, okay, that’s a bit extreme. But if in thirty or fifty pages or whatever, the book fails to interest you, then I think that’s fair. It’s enough to tell you whether the subject matter is to your taste, whether the author can string together a coherent sentence, and many other things that I think are fair predictors of how you’ll feel about the rest of the book. Sure, every so often there’s one where you would have liked it if you read the whole thing, but that’s rare.

    And from my standpoint as a writer, if I can’t get my story started in an interesting fashion in the first thirty pages, then that’s my fault. Hoping the reader will stay with me until page 150, when my story “gets good,” is unreasonable.

  16. 16. Jessica

    My TBR trys to stay located on a single shelf, but that’s mostly because anything I keep (or leave rather) at my mom’s house is still unread. So, mostly I have another house for my TBRs.

    Most of Mom’s TBRs have been packed around with us for several years. I know lots of titles by assosciation with their authors because for most of my life I’ve had to dust them once every year-and-a-half or so when we’ve moved and I’ve packed them into boxes.

    I’m mostly fond of the lend them permanently to a friend idea though.

  17. 17. Martin Wisse


    A colleague of my wife’s gave us about 30 boxes of older F&SF [...] and in pure self defense I’ve gotten in the habit of giving a new book 10-30 pages. If I don’t like it by then, I’m probably not going to, and out it goes.

    For some of those old sf novels, reading thirty pages means you’re already halfway through them, so you might as well read on…

    Meanwhile I got roughly 11/2 bookcase of unread sf/fantasy paperbacks in the bedroom and still nothing to read.

    I’m a book packrat because I remember what it was to be bored on a sunday afternoon with nothing in the house unread, nothing on telly and no internet yet.

  18. 18. Dan Ronco

    I built a bigger house. Didn’t throw out a book. That was seven years ago, and my shelves are bulging again. Time to check the real estate section.

  19. 19. Bran fan

    Have you tried bookcrossing? It’s the most fun you can have with your old books! It’s free to join and great karma. You can sign up at their website.

  20. 20. Pauline Kanipe

    I didn’t think anyone else but me had eleven book cases full plus boxes in the attic. Forty or so years ago, I threw away about one hundred books when I made a move. Within a year I had bought them again. That was before the days of fantasy fiction. When I was twelve and reading all the sci fi in the library the librarian wasn’t sure my mother wanted me to read all that stuff. (She didn’t: she thought I should be chasing boys, but my father was all for it).
    Recently I’ve been fearing that Mercedes Lackey could never write fast enough for me to get new books, so whenever I find a new author or series Like Crosspointe, I’m ecstatic. My daughter is dreading having to settle my estate one day. Maybe I should weed too.

Author Information

Diana Pharaoh Francis

Diana Pharaoh Francis has written the fantasy novel trilogy that includes Path of Fate, Path of Honor and Path of Blood. Path of Fate was nominated for the Mary Roberts Rinehart Award. Recently released was The Turning Tide, third in her Crosspointe Chronicles series (look also for The Cipher and The Black Ship). In October 2009, look for Bitter Night, a contemporary fantasy. Diana teaches in the English Department at the University of Montana Western, and is an avid lover of all things chocolate. Visit site.

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