May 2010 Newsletter

Tip of the Month: Letting go of (some of) the books

Psychologist Eda LaShan said middle age begins the moment you realize you won’t live long enough to read all the books you want to read.
— Barbara Winter

Leseschuld [“reading guilt” or “reading debt”] Traumatic emotional state of realizing you can’t keep up with all you feel obligated to read. Let go of your leseschuld. Unsubscribe, delete, throw in the recycling, donate those stacks bringing you down.
— Discardia, on Twitter (here and here)

For those of us who love books, deciding to let some of them go may seem impossibly difficult at first. And certainly, if you have plenty of room to keep them all, you may want to do so.

But some of us booklovers have found that letting selected books go works out just fine. I know I have limited reading time — as well as limited bookshelf space — and I refuse to feel guilty about making some choices. Here are some I’ve made recently.

1. No matter how much I like my book club, I will not spend time reading a book that I can’t get into, after giving it a fair try of 60 pages. And I won’t hold onto my copy, thinking maybe I’ll try again later. (I wound up passing it along to another group member who really liked the book, had read a library copy, and appreciated having a copy to own.)

2. I have no need for three books on mythology.

All of these were reference-type books — listing the various gods from a certain pantheons (Celtic, Nordic, etc.) and providing brief explanations about them. The books were dry reading. The type was smaller than I’d prefer. And I can find equally good information online if I want it.

I had bought these reference books the first time I read Neil Gaiman’s American Gods. I’m re-reading that book now — as part of One Book, One Twitter — and so I pulled them off my bookshelves. And then I gave them away on freecycle to a woman whose son is really into mythology right now.

3. Many of the lovely photo books of places I’ve visited can be cleared off my shelves.

I went to Vietnam in 1992; it was an amazing trip. I have three coffee-table books filled with photos of this beautiful country. But when I pulled them down and looked at them, I found they did nothing for me. I have my own images of Vietnam — in my memories, and in my photos. (And if I want to see more, the web is a treasure trove.) My unforgettable images involve the women I did tai chi with every morning in Hanoi; that’s not something I’ll find in any of my books.

Now, this doesn’t mean I want to give up all of those coffee-table books; some are indeed special. For example, I love my book about the old Tiger Balm Gardens in Hong Kong and Singapore; I saw the gardens in Singapore on my first trip to Asia. This book provides some detailed information and some stunning photos — neither of these are readily available elsewhere. But I want to be selective, and only keep those books that really speak to me.