My books have been part of my life forever. They have been good soldiers, boon companions. Every book has survived numerous purges over the years; each book has repeatedly been called onto the carpet and asked to explain itself. I own no book that has not fought the good fight, taken on all comers, and earned the right to remain.
All the books we own, both read and unread, are the fullest expression of self we have at our disposal. . . But with each passing year, and with each whimsical purchase, our libraries become more and more able to articulate who we are, whether we read the books or not.
Every now and then, when my bookshelves start to overflow, I get the urge to purge. I never do a very good job. Professional organizers recommend making three piles: “keep”; “toss”; and “donate”. The “toss” pile is usually very small, because I feel terrible throwing away a book unless it is truly falling apart. I can almost always fill a bag with books to donate, but I end up re-shelving dozens of books that a more ruthless culler would donate without a second thought. My rule of thumb is that I feel any ambivalence at all, the book gets to stay. I’m not listening to the advice Marie Kondo offers in The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up , which is to keep no more than 30 books in a home library and to house that library in a closet.
I’ve realized that I own many books that have survived multiple purges. If I’m going to be honest, I have to admit I will never read these books. They are no longer books to be read; they are decorative objects. The question I’ve decided to ask about every unread book I own is whether I would carry it on a trip. (Keep in mind I have no problem lugging hardcover books wherever I go. I carried In the Kingdom of Ice on a two-week trip to Europe last fall and I was happy to have it with me.)
So here are 9 hardcover books I have considered reading many times but I know I will never read. I tried hard to part with at least 10, but I just couldn’t. (I have an easier time giving away paperbacks.) They’re packed in a shopping bag, ready to be dropped at the back door of the Lake Forest Library. This is the collection point for the Friends of the Library annual book sale, and there is a large sign warning potential used book thieves that security cameras are in use. I wonder if some people think that because they’re donating some books, they get to take a few as well. Those people must be even worse at cleaning out their bookshelves than I am!
If anyone thinks I’m making a big mistake getting rid of any of these books, let me know . . .
Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin by Jill Lepore
A National Book Award finalist in 2013, Book of Ages came highly recommended from a trusted source — but whenever I’m deciding what to read next, I look at its lovely cover and then choose something else.
Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder by Arianna Huffington
A publisher sent me Thrive as part of an ill-conceived program called “Blogging for Books”. I don’t even understand the title. What does she mean by “third metric”? I guess I would have to read the book to find out, but I’m not that curious.
Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day: The Discovery That Revolutionizes Home Baking by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoë François
I bought this book seven or eight years ago under the misguided impression I would want to spend any time at all (even five minutes) baking bread. It’s never been opened.
Every Day is for the Thief by Teju Cole
This book, about a Nigerian immigrant in New York who returns to his home country, received a lot of critical acclaim, as did its predecessor, Open City. However — and this is a deal-breaker for me — it is about an unnamed character.
The Love of My Youth by Mary Gordon
Over the past few years, I’ve picked it up, put it down . . . picked it up, put it down . . . Time for The Love of My Youth to find a new home where it will be appreciated.
The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova
How on earth did I end up with a book about vampires on my shelf, even a supposedly literary one? I did consider keeping The Historian for a minute, because I came across this quotation while flipping through the book: “It was good to walk into a library again; it smelled like home.”
The Private Life of Chairman Mao by Dr. Li Zhisui
This 750-page book, which was written by Mao’s personal physician, was given to me in 1996. I think it’s safe to say I’ll never read it. Especially since I just skimmed the first chapter and learned more than I wanted to know about Mao’s lack of oral hygiene.
Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
I’ve had this book so long that the pages have turned yellow. People love this series, I know. I started it, and it’s just not for me; I hate time travel.
The Kid: The Immortal Life of Ted Williams by Ben Bradlee, Jr.
I never intended to read this book, but I thought my husband might like it. What was I thinking? He’s not going to read an 864-page “epic biography” of Ted Williams, no matter how good it is.
Oh, and by the way — in the spirit of full disclosure, I have to add that I didn’t personally carry In the Kingdom of Ice through Holland, Belgium, and France. I took every opportunity to sneak it into my husband’s bag. I think he would say that it was worth bringing with us, because he enjoyed it as much as I did.