I have packed away 80% of my books and my shelves still look full. I’ve given away dozens of titles to charity and friends. I’ll be giving away quite a few more before all the packing is done. I even remembered I had a few boxes of books in our storage unit that I hadn’t opened in nearly 5 years. The big question: If I haven’t needed them in half a decade, why am I still keeping them?
If money and space were no object, obviously I’d keep all my books. I hope to stop moving sooner rather than later and thus be able to give my library the home it deserves. (It really is a library at this point. My holdings in American religious history? Excellent. Science Fiction classics? Quite good. Romance novels? Not a one in sight. I won’t call it is a diverse or well-rounded collection!)
If you moved recently, did you pare down your collection? What method did you use to decide what to keep and what to discard? Did you sell them, give them away to friends, or donate them to charity?
I’ve tried to take the hardest line I can. Is it useful for my teaching? Is it useful for my research? Can I replace it cheaply? Is it easy to get from a library? This means that much of my science fiction mass markets are going to Goodwill. Likewise for any causal or pleasure reading items I may have accumulated. (Thankfully my wife is not a reader and has contributed little to the sagging shelves.) It’s been a ruthless process, but many of the academic texts have been saved because they are not cheap to replace nor necessarily easy to get at your local library.
So here I am, giving away as many books as I can stomach, but still with a dozen banker boxes of items. I think the grand total will be nearly 20. I’m sure if I had kept everything it’d be twice that many. This is what happens when you’re a voracious reader who works with texts. (I have at least 3 boxes of primary sources for my research on spiritual warfare.)
The brutal truth? If I had more disposable income, I’d probably have even more books. I love books! One of my favorite parts of annual conferences is the book expo. Shiny new hardcovers full of amazing new ideas. What’s not to love? (Apart from the prices, right?)
Don’t get me wrong–I’m all for many parts of the digital revolution. But my e-reader will never replace my bookshelves. All the more because according to most legal interpretations, I don’t own my digital copies, I’ve merely licensed permission to view them on an approved device. Packing all the books reminds me not only of the rewards of our academic labor, but also of its materiality, its moderate durability, and its participation in one of the defining features of modern civilization (print culture).
So I say, save the books, or at least as many of the books as I can tolerate. As long as I don’t hurt my back carrying them up the stairs to our new second floor apartment! I may have been ruthless in paring my collection down to a more travel-friendly size, but I will miss them all.
[In the last week I bought 3 books! Two volumes of the excellent Witch Doctor graphic novel series and Marcus Borg’s The Evolution of the Word, which is an interesting chronological presentation of the New Testament.)