Book Despair: Too Many Books, Not Enough Space

Shelved, if not organized.

I  looked around the room with pleasure. The space is bright and cheerful:  we recently painted the walls and moved out some of the furniture.   But the real difference? There are no books on the floor.

Bloggers write about book hauls, but gloss over book hoarding. The official definition of book hoarding, according to Rachel Kramer Bussell, is having 1,000 books or more.

Bussell wrote at The Toast in 2014:

I wish I could honestly answer “there’s no such thing as too many books,” but as I learned from experience, that’s not true. Nothing brought this home for me like watching paid professionals cart away hundreds of books—read and unread, purchased lovingly or attained at book parties or conferences—when I hired a trash removal service last year upon moving from my two-bedroom apartment after 13 years.

In my experience, it is all about square footage.  We used to live in an old house where the attic alone could hold 1,000 books. Now we live in a nicer house with less space–and if only we had only 1,000 books!

If the public library were better, I would depend less on bookstores and own fewer books.  On the rare occasions when I visit a university library I find everything I need, but the local library has a policy of weeding books every five years.  See the picture above?  Only three of these books are available at our library:  the Anne Brontes, Tess of the D’Urbervilles, and The Butcher’s Daughter.  (And, by the way, I’ve read all the books on those shelves, so I’m not just a hoarder.)

The great thing about “redoing” the bedroom:  I can now read in bed without getting distracted by the messy stacks of books on the floor.   With fewer books in the room, I get more reading done.   And I am so happy with the less cluttered space hat I am determined to address my shopping problem

HERE’S WHAT I’M DOING ABOUT IT.  (And I would welcome any suggestions.)

1. Read fewer book reviews. I don’t need to keep up with the latest books, because I have so many good ones at home.

2. Read Goodreads reviews and blogs.  There is less urgency about blogs, probably  because it is a volunteer activity.  And bloggers write about both old and new books:   there is no expiration date on the product, so we can add the books to our TBR and enter the conversation when we’re ready.   Hence, there is no voice in my head saying, “Buy the latest books!  Buy them now!” Now the voice says, “Oh, a reissued book by Rachel Ferguson.  I will buy a copy next month, after if I finish X, X, and X.”

3.  Stop using bookstore sites as databases.  There is much information about books at bookstore sites, but it is too tempting to buy the books.

4.  Find a new hobby.  But what?  Politics? Knitting?  I can’t imagine.

All right, any other hoarders out there?

14 thoughts on “Book Despair: Too Many Books, Not Enough Space

  1. Why (only) a thousand as the limit for hoarding? That’s only a small library.
    I don’t keep copies of the classics (unless there’s something special about them, like a fine edition or illustrations, or interesting notes or… ) as they’re easily available on the ‘net, or I wouldn’t, as I’ve already got most of the ones I want, but even if they had the books I want to read or look up something in, my local libraries are very inconsiderately not open at 3 a.m..

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    • The number seems arbitrary: the problem is when you have more than 1,000! I’m a great rereader, so I hang on to the classics, but even I think I have too many copies of Anna Karenina (two illustrated and others in various translations). In theory I love the public library, and if only I wanted to read all the new books…but, as you say, it isn’t open at 3 a.m. even if it had my books.

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  2. A KU subscription can be helpful—sort of. The books don’t take up any physical space, but you’re only allowed to have ten KU books checked out at once, so you have to either read them or return them unread if you want to check out another book.

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  3. We sold our house this summer, all part of an effort to live a simpler life and lessen the financial burden of heating and maintaining an 1889 Victorian. To be fair, the greatest amount of money spent was in restoration, most of which we did ourselves. We left it better than we found it, and because of its good bones, it’ll be standing long after the cheap, hastily constructed homes in subdivisions being built in the surrounding farmland.

    I’ve strayed a bit from the topic but mention the house because, like your former home, it could easily accommodate a thousand books in the attic. In fact it did just that, housing boxes of books that we had moved from homes in Toronto and Vancouver. In fifteen years, they were never opened – and so, on this move they were sold.

    Victorian homes invite accumulation and clutter – it’s part of the look – which is why we’re now building something approaching minimalism. For the most part, the books I’ve kept, about 6000, are necessary to my work on forgotten Canadian literature. The closest academic libraries are an hour away – and, as I’ve discovered, hold only a fraction of the books in my collection.

    The only suggestion I can offer is this: The books kept that fell outside my work are the authors I return to again and again, often in the middle of the night. I think of them by authors – Banville, Nabokov, and Wharton, to name three – as the Essentials. Others I can get through interlibrary loans. True, this involves greater effort than walking down the hallway in one’s bathrobe, but I can place an interlibrary loan request from home with the click of a mouse. That’s not much different from ordering online, and I’m not accumulating.

    I do not recommend another hobby; you already have the best.

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    • Brian, I do love those big Victorian houses! Ours was not a Victorian, but a rambling house built in the1920s, with more space than we needed. Isn’t it astonishing how you can buy as many books as you want and there’s always room?

      We talk about building a book shed. Michael Dirda, a critic for the Wash Post, said that he and his critic cronies acquire so many books they all have book sheds in their back yards. TThe problem with our house (and others in our area) is that we have a big basement but there are now frequent floods (thanks to global warming) and we can’t store anything we value there. . This summer a big flash flood filled basements all over town and everybody dried stuff on their lawns: it looked like a perpetual garage sale:!

      Yes, I am now thinking of saving my favorite bookss and not investing in one-read books. Thanks for reminding me about inter-library loan. I had completely forgotten about that!

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  4. Like Roger, after a recent move, I purged my library of paperbacks of any books that I could get on the Internet for free. I kept the older books with nice bindings. They really did know how to do things well in the 1800s! But I can’t keep myself from adding to the clutter in my new library, which a few months ago had all the books on the shelves. Now there are books stacked on the floor again, which makes it difficult to vacuum, so I read instead. I think I had better take a speed reading course.

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    • Ha! Vacuuming IS hard around those stacks of books! Let’s read instead.
      It IS a good idea to switch to free e-books. The other day I was looking for a specific title, and the cheapest out-of-print copy was $10 for a book in “fair” condition. We all know that means “bad” condition, so why would anybody buy that????!!!!!!

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  5. I can warn you as someone with a similar book issue that knitting will just add to your collection, there are plenty of collectible knitting books, and the yarn, and the needles…it’s a slippery slope. My knitting book collection has shifted from one shelf to two, but at least is more likely to have a PDF available than fiction, which I always prefer in hard copy. I have no solutions for storage, as I find myself in the same boat. Our recent bedroom rearrangement still leaves piles of books on the floor, although after a cull I did manage to consolidate from six piles to five…that must count for something!

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    • Oh, this makes me laugh! I would never have thought of knitting as adding to the collection, but yes it would. I started a scarf a few years ago and stuck the yarn and needles in a drawer. Now if I actually finished the scarf and started other projects, I don’t know where i’d put them. Knitting books are beyond me. I can knit scarves, or knit and purl them, and that is that.

      Oh dear, those damned stacks on the floor! It does count to have gotten rid of one of them.

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  6. That’s the way attics should be! I do have to laugh at the thought of your barely walking through your attic full of books. Multiple copies of War and Peace or AK should get us points in some book challenge, don’t you think? A How Many Copies readalong…

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