The Book Cull: A Report

I mentioned the other day that it was time for a big book cull. I was pleased to hear in the comments that my ridiculous amount of books (I said 500 or so, it was actually 673 to be precise – see spreadsheets can be your friends) made some of you feel much better about your own  TBR’s and I was also pleased that people commented and said they had many more books than me. A fair few of you also wanted me to report back on how I got on, well here it is. Maybe, should you ever need a book cull, this might provide some tips.

People who don’t love books, or even people who do love them but somehow don’t binge or hoard them, will have no idea how hard it is to cull your TBR. In fairness I had actually forgotten or I might have had second thoughts about doing this weekend, not only did it take hours and hours and hours, it was also quite stressful. You see I always think that every book is a future adventure or journey (though not in the saccharine ‘journey’ sense) that is lying in wait for me amongst all those pages bound in gorgeous covers. However even I had to admit that the amount of books I owned was going a bit far, especially when they are in front of you.

From this vantage point they strangely manage to look both deceptively few and yet also like a big gang of books set to intimidate the sorter/culler. It felt like they knew what was coming and were either threatening me or pleading with me in order to stay. (I might have spent too much time with books in the last 48 hours or so, I could be slightly deranged.) I knew I was going to have to be tough, possibly tougher than I have ever been with a cull, and believe me I have done a few. I decided it was time to change tactics, this was going to involve several mini culls. The first step was the easiest, divide the books into ‘must reads’, ‘might reads’ and ‘probably bought on whim or sent unsolicited and I am just hoarding them just in case’. As you can imagine I ended up with a fairly big pile of ‘must reads’ a fairly big pile of ‘probably bought on whim or sent unsolicited and I am just hoarding them just in case’ books and a stupidly huge amount of ‘might reads’. Being tough simply wasn’t enough, I needed to be brutal, so I created some criteria for culling books further based on the books I had in the ‘maybe read’ piles…

  • Can I remember why I got this book, or how? No, cull.
  • Do I have more than one copy? Yes, cull. (Thank goodness for spreadsheets, I discovered I had seven, yes seven, different books in duplicate editions, see hoarding has its pitfalls.)
  • Is this book part of a series for which I don’t have the prior novels? Yes, cull.
  • If from a publisher (this was the case with about a third of the books, most were whim purchases from varying sources) have I kept this book because it was sent unsolicited but I like the publisher and don’t want to upset them? Yes, cull.
  • Is this a fairly modern title I do rather quite like the sound of but I have seen in the library recently where I could get it out if I do miss it? Yes, cull.
  • Is this a classic everyone says you should read, so you own, but actually you don’t really think you will read it any time soon and could always borrow it from the library as above? Yes, cull.

This was helpful and by this point I would say I could have got away with it.

However after a nights sleep, and waking up to the above sight, I decided I needed to be even harder. It was time to cull even more and so I asked myself the following as I went through them all again..

  • Is this the first in a series I haven’t started yet which I might or might not like but will feel compelled to read the rest of? Yes, cull.
  • Has the author heard I have got their book and not sent just one nice email but harranged me with ‘when are you reading my book?’ This has indeed happened. Yes, cull. (I don’t mind a nice friendly nudge now and again, I understand they want their books read by anyone and everyone, but sometimes it gets a bit much.)
  • Is this one of several books where I have bought the entire back catalogue of an author simply based on enjoying one of their novels? If so do I have more than three or four of this author’s works? Yes, cull- but only the ones that sound the least ‘my sort of read’.
  • Is this a book by one of my favourite authors that I have hoarded and yet actually don’t imagine reading in the next few years as have plenty of others of theirs? Yes, cull.

This pretty much did the trick and by now my room had gone from looking like the stock room of a book shop, to the delivery room of a charity shop…

Which was interesting as within another twenty minutes, and with the help of a trusty relative and their car, I was ready to deliver this loot to the nearby charity bookshop…

The looks on the women’s faces when we first arrived laden with the first of the bags was joyful, the second time we walked in they looked a little perplexed. When I came back in for the third time one of ladies, who did in fairness give me a huge hug afterwards, said ‘how many bags do you have in total?’ I though t she might faint when I said ‘Erm, 24-ish’. It was noted by my accompanying relative that I didn’t mention how many books these bags contained altogether.

Now as I look at the pile of books you can see in the picture here —– > (and they are only the books in the clear boxes,  the fancy boxes are empty) I am feeling rather pleased with myself. Not only did I get my TBR pile (which I will give it its own page later as for some reason word tables and wordpress don’t mix) down to a much more manageable 275 books exactly. It is also a TBR of books I ‘really want to read’ rather than a vast pile of books I want to read with lots that I feel I should, it hinders choosing the next book to read really. Well for me it does. Anyway, most importantly I stopped selfishly hoarding these excess books (about 350 once family had taken the first pickings) that will not only make money for a charity but will also, through the charity shop being one just for books and hopefully therefore book lovers, find new homes with people who love reading. It feels good in lots of ways.

Now, as I have just finished a book, which one shall I pull from my new refined TBR! In fact that is an additional joy, its reminded me which authors older books I haven’t let myself indulge in for a while. Ian McEwan, Anne Tyler, Colm Toibin, Angela Carter and more Daphne Du Maurier and Margaret Atwood for a start. I love this pre-decision feeling, it’s s exciting not knowing what lies in store next. Right, I am off to have a mooch.


Filed under Book Thoughts, Random Savidgeness

41 responses to “The Book Cull: A Report

  1. Well done! Hope you find a winner in your (shorter) pile.

  2. Wow, I am in awe. An excellent cull my friend! It can be hard to downsize and getting rid of any book is tough but you have done well. Sometimes being ruthless has it’s charms and you now have a load more room in your house. Win win.

    • It has made a huge difference and not just in terms of space in the house/flat but also in my head. I hadn’t realised it but actually the sheer amount of books was getting to me a little, guilt and pressure combined. Much freer in many ways now.

  3. David

    You are a lot stronger willed than I, Simon. I haven’t actually counted my hoarded-yet-unread books but I could hazard a guess – 400ish maybe? Bookcases with very deep shelves has so far been my answer (I can get 20-25 hardbacks behind the books at the front of each shelf, even more if they’re paperbacks) but as the books at the front are now getting dangerously close to the edge (and I worry about the weight of them all and what effect that has on the joists) that approach may not work for much longer and a cull may be necessary.

    But then, four of the books I’ve read this month have been ones I’ve had for years (since 1998 in one instance) and had never got around to, and then on a whim I finally read them. Two of them are the best books I’ve read this month. To think those stories, those worlds and characters, were just sitting there on a shelf patiently waiting for me to discover them. One (Alex Miller’s “Journey to the Stone Country”) I loved so much I’ve gone and bought three more books by him. So I then start to assess everything in that light: two Margaret Drabble novels I don’t know why I bought and don’t particularly fancy, but supposing (just supposing) I read one and love it? I wasn’t overly enamoured with Beryl Bainbridge’s “Every Man For Himself” and I won’t ever re-read it, but it’s only slim and doesn’t take up much room, plus it’s a signed first, and supposing I get around to reading “Birthday Boys” (which I also have) and love it – I’d be sorry I’d let the other one go then. Or do I just bite the bullet and get rid of both? And what of Ben Okri? I thought “Dangerous Love” was superb, but I’ve not really enjoyed anything else I’ve read by him – do I just keep the novel I liked or, for the sake of completeness, do I keep the other four of his I have? And of course “The Famished Road” (dull, slow, ponderous) won the Booker and I sort of like having a collection of Booker winners…

    But yes, there are some I could probably get rid of. Books I’ve bought because they were on a Booker or Orange longlist but which I never truly fancied; ones I bought because I liked the cover(!); debuts I bought by authors who have never published anything since. But maybe they will… maybe as we speak Mukul Kesavan is working on the long-not-awaited follow-up to his 1995 non-bestseller “Looking Through Glass” (which I bought in a sale because of the lovely Christopher Corr cover), maybe he’ll win accolades and prizes galore with this fine new novel and “Looking Through Glass” will not only become a sought after rarity, but a book I simply have to read…

    • That last paragraph had me in hysterics David, thank you its made me laugh and laugh.

      I didn’t get rid of some of the books I bought ten years ago let alone four but I did trim them down. The ones I am currently having some guilt over are the ones which I was bought by friends but really didnt fancy. But will the notice? Hopefully not.

      I heard Barry Humphries on Open Book last year saying he was worried his house was going to collapse because of the sheer weight of the books on his bookshelves in his first floor study… I liked him all the more for it.

  4. well done! kudos to you for tackling a difficult and stressful task, and turning it into a positive experience by sharing your cull advice with us as well as your book bounty with the charity shop. i have a friend who is a book hoarder (hee hee) who will appreciate your wise words. . . okay, okay – i admit it – the “friend” is me. i actually instituted a book lottery with my TBR recently, by listing all the books and assigning them numbers. when i finish one book i pull out a random number that tells me what my next book will be. if after the first 50 pages are so can’t get into it, i pop it into the charity shop pile and pull another number. this process has been very good – making me face the fact that i had a lot of books lurking on the TBR that i thought i might want to read, but when i got right down to it i didn’t really want to read. so i can give them their chance, and if they don’t measure up move on without a big fuss. i do cheat sometimes when i receive a book i really can’t wait to read, i’ll bypass the book lottery altogether.

    • I hope that the cull post might be of some advice to people Pam. I am not saying this is how you should do it but it has certainly worked for me.

      I love how you did the ‘friend’ thing and then owned up, I wasn’t convinced I have to say 😉

      I do find the idea of a lottery fascinating, but I do think a lot of things need to be alligned when you choose what book you read next. Like at the mo it needs for me to be a Victorian novel in some way, thats just the way my tastes are programmed at the moment.

  5. Wow, I am crazy impressed at how many you managed to cull and you really make me think I should do more myself. Your rules are all really well thought out and yes, now I feel a bit selfish keeping all those unread books myself. At least I give away the ones I read? Darn still feel guilty. I blame you! 😉

    • Oh no Amy, I didnt want to make anyone else feel guilty. The selfish comment was aimed firmly at me, its how I felt by the end of the exercise, I needed the shock. No one is guilty for owning books really though, if you love them why not? Apart from room and mental stability lol.

  6. Ann P

    Well done. I really ought to do the same but instead I am just wishing I lived near your charity shop.

  7. Impressive!!! You are doing exactly what I’m hoping to accomplish this year, complete with book buying ban!


  8. Thanks Simon, for sharing the well thought out tips on culling. Now if only we could apply the same thought process before the actual buying…. but then that would take away the fun and thrill that comes with getting in-coming books, regardless of how likely we are to read them. So I guess somehow the vicious cycle is inevitable – buying and culling.

    • You raise an interesting point there Michelle. I am not going to apply any rules to incoming books I buy or get from publishers unless they are unsolicited, the unsolicited ones will either stay or go based on a quick analysis of plot etc. Others stay and will be assessed in the next cull. I might do it every three months I think.

  9. These were some fantastic questions that you asked yourself. I think the one that would help me the most is “couldn’t I just get it at the library?” Unless it’s a book that I’m almost guaranteed to love and want to re-read again, why do I have it? Dear Simon, you’ve inspired me and I will be starting my own TBR cull shortly!

    • Glad I could be of assistance Kristen. I think the library one was an important one because I am trying to use the library more than I currently do, which is working. Plus a lot of the more ‘populist’ books I had on the TBR I have seen several copies of locally.

      Report back on your cull please, when you do it.

  10. gaskella

    Well done Simon. I must get going on mine… My spare bedroom that I use as a study has walls lined with double stacked bookcases, and I am sure the joists are complaining.

    • Isn’t that what spare rooms are for? Ha. It’s made me think about having to move and how I should be aware of this in the future. Mind you moving from London to Manchester should have done that.

  11. As one who loves books, but neither binges nor hoards, I salute you!

  12. Well done Simon, it’s always a horrible task! I can only do it about once a year and I find I have to be ruthless!

  13. Brave, brave Simon! You were really ruthless, but I’m glad you’re happy with the results. I usually do a little culling on my birthday, just before the party, so that I can put books above the fireplace with a sign saying “Free Books, Please Take!” 🙂

  14. JoV

    That’s a very methodological way of culling. Well done for being ruthless. I wish I was at the charity shops when you walk you in 24-ish bags!

  15. Well done you, that’s a weight off your shoulders, right?
    But I’m trying not to be jealous that you had access to a car to help you offload your books. Me? I have to carry them in a bag and walk a mile. Or dust of my VIBRANT PINK granny trolley. By the time I reach my destination I’m knackered — or have wrecked my back.

  16. Living in a small flat a regular a cull is a necessity and had one recently and got rid of about 80 books (my TBR pile not as big as yours). Visiting a friend tomorrow so taking about 40 books to her (she has a habit of reciprocating so will probably come back with more than I take) and still have about 70 books left. I have been sent a whole series of Adrian Mole so when I have written about that, that is another heap gone. Only by regularly doing this can I keep my shelves under control but oh, it is hard!

    • Giving to friends is always a lovely feeling, my family then my book group got first dibs on the culled items it has to be said.

      I think, like you do now, I might make this a more regular endeavour.

      I am jealous about your Adrian Mole set, mine never turned up 😦 mind you having just done a cull another however many books would have slightly defeated the object.

  17. Pingback: TBR Double Dare and Book Cull Update « Lizzy’s Literary Life

  18. I am going to hunt the charity book shops of Manchester to find this hoard and gobble it up ! Much to my boyfriend’s dismay, I refuse to cull my collection.

    • Hahaha you might have to go a few stops on the train out of town Lucy, email me and we could coffee and go together, just dont let me get any of my own books back.

      Manchester is on the whole a little rubbish for book charity shops.

  19. We are using bookshelves creatively as a means of nice-looking insulation around every spare inch of wall space here in our draughty, stone-built Devon cottage, bit like medieval tapestries but more useful!

  20. Great job man! I managed to cull 3 and a bit bags from our shelves over Christmas and now all the books look so much more appetising. I also find I’m more likey to pick up books I’m 99% sure I’ll love, that I’ve been holding back, for that special, never arriving bookish rainy day, which means good books all round.

    • Yes, that was something it has done actually Jodie. I will now think more carefully before I buy a book, no matter how cheap in a charity shop or brand new, or ask for one from family, publishers etc. I am going to make sure I really, really want a book and avoid hype more than ever.

  21. I so wish I lived near the lucky charity shop that inherited this pretty awesome collection!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s