Saturday, July 6, 2013


DEBORAH CROMBIE: Books. Books. Books. For most of us of us who read them, and those of us who write them, there exists an ongoing battle to prevent every square inch of living space in our homes from being taken over by BOOKS.

I've no problem keeping my clothes closet cleaned out, my kitchen fairly organized, but, oh, my, the books are a different matter. And I'm not even a collector. I don't hunt for first editions. I don't even care much about signed copies unless the books were written by good friends. 

I should add that although our old house is fairly big, it has thirty-seven windows, and half as many doors. And art. Lots and lots of art. Not just the London Transport posters I've been collecting for many years (there are almost as many of those as there are windows...) but a good bit of other artwork and photos. So when you put all those things together there isn't that much wall space. There's never been a designated space for a proper library, just bookcases stuck wherever they would fit. Hall. Dining room. Both up and downstairs offices. And those bookcases had reached the point where they were double, sometimes triple and quadruple stacked, and the books were--literally--toppling out. I was  having visions of being buried by books...

And these, mind you, are only the books I READ, not the books I've written. In January, I started the
Great Book Project--an attempt to organize, catalog, and properly store (or dispose of) twenty years worth of multiple editions of my own novels. Everything went into our dining room, as you can see here. Ugly. I hired some great help, and within six weeks there was progress. I now had a pretty good idea WHAT I had, and most of the US and UK books were boxed and cataloged. Then I went on book tour. Then England. The project came to a dead halt. And
here we are in July--stasis.

But it's all this huge domino thing--in order to find some shelf and storage space, all those OTHER books had to be organized and pared down, too. So yesterday I tackled the bookshelves with a vengeance. And rolls of damp paper towels. The accumulated dust and dog hair, oh, my...

Some progress. About half the downstairs bookshelves are done. The upstairs office, not quite so much. I discovered some treasures. I'm giving away things I should probably keep and keeping some battered copies I should probably give away. (Or throw away.)

Here are just some of the books going to Half Price Books tomorrow. I ran out of boxes and bags. But in the photo at the top of the page you can see one newly tidy set of shelves, and here are two more.

And yes, there is some empty shelf space, but not for long. Books from other places in the house will fill those spots.

So how to keep this from starting all over again?

I'm joining the digital revolution. I was a holdout on e-books. I didn't get any kind of an e-reader until Rick gave me a tablet for Christmas, and now, after a few months of testing the waters, I'm a convert.  I've discovered I love reading on my tablet. It's fast, I can make the font bigger, I can switch from book to book, it's comfortable to hold in bed, and I'm not always losing my place. And the stories are just as good!

I don't mean I'm giving up paper books altogether. There will always be books I want to hold in my hands. Books I want to share with friends and family. But I will think really seriously from now on about where a book is going to go on a shelf. And I suspect that having done one major purge, parting with more books will become easier.

As for what to do with my own books in all their incarnations, I'm still working on that one, and that's another blog.

So, REDS and READERS, are you downsizing your libraries, and if so, how do you decide what to keep?

PS: And I'd really like to have my dining room back...


  1. Books, books, books . . . like most booklovers, we have bookshelves everywhere [even my Nook has bookshelves which are probably more organized than the actual bookshelves in our house]. And while I agree that some sort of paring down makes a great deal of sense, the very thought of getting rid of books simply for the sake of bookshelf space is enough to make me cringe in horror.

    Somehow, no matter how many books I give away, there are always that many books [and more] waiting to take their place. In a world where I almost never met a book I didn’t love, it seems fairly certain that the downsizing thing is not too likely to happen here . . . .

  2. I can't throw away any books. I suppose the chances are dwindling rapidly, the sands running out, but I've always wanted my own library -- a home and a room big enough to store all my books on the wall. The wife let me have the upstairs hallway last year, and I've lined that with shelves and my favorites. But it's not enough. I want my own library -- maybe even with a librarian.

  3. Yes, downsizing! I still have boxes of books in the basement from our move last summer that I am gradually unpacking (house is still under renovation so there's no point in doing too much of that). My rule for buying physical books now is: Only if I Know the Author personally. Which of course adds up! Otherwise it's Kindle or the library.

    I love that you have such a big effort to catalog your OWN books, Debs. One aspires to same...

  4. Wow...I thought my husband and I had a lot of books. He was in publishing for many years, I used to be a bookstore manager and now I actually do a little writing, so we've accumulated quite a few.

    No hard and fast rules for either buying or deaccessioning. Brought three boxes to the library last month, but in the co8urse of reearching WIP I've probably bought 30 books.

    Dirty little secret? In the airport? I always seem to find a book I've never heard of that I must own. The book buyer at Hudson News must be pretty cool.

    We'll be selling NY apt next year so I'll have to make some choices, but I think a few of the black dresses will go before the books!

  5. Years ago I read 84 Charing Cross Road, it's near the top of my Lifetime Top Twenty, and I adopted Hanff's method: if one book comes in, one book has to go out. We don't count reference books or books we want to reread.
    Sometimes that's mere lip service, and we still somehow gather more than we sow, but it makes the "spring cleaning" roundups much easier.
    Good luck with the job, Mary Moody

  6. Basic rule of thumb, with some exceptions: Keep nonfiction, give nonfiction to public library or resale shop.

  7. Debs, I think I covet your wonderful old house with all those windows. And art work. And books. sigh. yep. covet.

    When we moved to Boone from Atlanta 16 or 17 years ago we knew we wanted to move into a smaller house, and we did, and I've never regretted it. The trade-off being a little bit of land, not being able to see any other houses, a pond and a creek we hear running all day and all night. But yes, storage in general is a big issue and books in particular. A year or so ago we made the decision to get rid of the bed in the guest room and fill it with bookshelves. It's not a library (much too small) but it's where the book cataloging begins and where authors A thru G live. G thru P live on the shelves downstairs and P thru Z on the shelves upstairs. It's the first time ever our books have been alphabetized, and I left a little room for growth, although not enough, as it turns out. While doing that, I got rid of some books and now have become pretty particular about what books I buy in "book" form. Like you, Debs, more and more books are now read on my iPad. Not, of course, books by my favorite authors or author friends that are inscribed to me - those are more precious than gold.

  8. Jack, maybe it's the librarian your wife objects to, not the library!

    Debs, what a project! I've been working on my closet this week rather than my bookshelves (which also overflow.) Throwing out long underwear from my brief skiing days...a leopard print dress shot through with sparkly gold that looks good on the hanger, but has the shape of a tent on me...outfits I wore as a therapist that have no place in a writer's closet!

    Sending you good thoughts! I still don't like reading on an e-reader so the books will continue to pour in.

  9. Jack, I dream of a library, too. In my dream house, my library/office is between the kitchen and the screened-in porch. There are lots of other cool things about this dream house--it's looks like an old house but is actually energy efficient, for one thing! But in the meantime, I'll enjoy this one, as it does have enormous charm. Just not enough shelf space.

    Really, though, I'm not parting with anything that gives me terrible grief. Either I didn't like the book in the first place, never got around to reading it and pretty safely say that now I won't, read it but know I will never read it again. All the books I LOVE I'm keeping.

  10. Lucy, maybe it's a difference in the e-reader? This has been a big surprise for me, as I didn't think I'd like reading on an e-reader, either. I've discovered that I can read much faster, and with the perpetual problem of "too many books, not enough time" this is a good thing. Very light and comfortable to hold in bed, and no more of the life-long worry about having a good reading light. Still, there are books I want in paper. Like yours:-)

  11. Kaye, I read about your library and I coveted, too!

    Funny thing, I've never alphabetized my books. I group certain types of books and certain authors together, and until the last year or two when things got so out of hand, I've never had trouble finding anything.

    Now I'm going to love knowing where everything is again.

  12. We're moving from 2400 sq. ft in Houston to 1500 sq. ft in Albuquerque. My mystery library and hubby's SF library each had to be pared by half ("how much do I want to read/reread this book?"). General fiction and nonfiction, we each had to vote for a book to remain or it went in the box to donate to our neighborhood library to sell. (Any idea how ferociously library budgets have been cut?). We were both morose for a long time.

  13. I have struggled with this problem for years! Being a military spouse, it took on another dimension because we moved every three years, and I was forced to weed out and keep only what I truly loved. But now, we have been in the same house in Texas for 16 years, and the books have begun piling up in earnest! I do have a Kindle now, which has helped, and I am slowly getting several of the series that I love on it to free up more space.I will finally have a spare room in a few months(my fourth is leaving for College), and have the chance to use some free space! Maybe my nightstand will finally have to hold only the three or four books I am reading at the time. I am so careful about the books I do buy in actual copy, and I never keep a book I haven't LOVED! If you add to my books the books my children buy as well...... the problem slowly increases!

  14. 10 years ago we down sized from a large house with an office/library to a small 3 bedroom cottage. We went though all of our books and donated most to friends and small libraries. I cataloged those we kept and our den became the repository of books. We still have 8 ceiling to floor book selves and my husband has about that many in is office at work. If one comes goes out. But to be honest we've gone to electronic. I work in a library and I get most must reads through there and read about 100 a year electronically either audio or on screen. My kindle has become my library and it's shelves are full to overflowing, but it will fit in my purse!

  15. I decided I had to downsize my book collection if only to have room for new purchases. I'm not yet a convert to e books. I established some criteria. Books any library should contain, books which had some special meaning and books I reread. The rest got boxed up and donated to a library nearby which has a secondhand bookshop. Lots of empty shelves as a result. And maybe, just maybe, I'll finally have a guest room instead of a space completely overtaken by books. Although if you visit, please refrain from looking in tha master bedroom :-)

  16. Congratulations, Deb! A reorganized space or shelf is a thing of beauty, and just plain feels good.

    We actually have a library: our house opens with a 30 foot long wall with a big window that leads to what was probably intended to be a formal living room; we use that space for my husband's office and built shelves on both sides. Heavenly! But, yes, they're too full. Mr. Right's a doctor of natural medicine and has reference books dating back to the 1870s. Some of them are really beautiful, and he does use them.

    I keep a lot of mysteries because they inspire me. I get to a stuck spot on the WIP, and being able to refer to other books is a huge help -- even if I don't solve the problem the same way as the writer I consult. Just seeing the books on the shelves gives me ideas! So for now, at least, books I don't plan to reread need to stay. Later ... always a dangerous word!

  17. Good for you, Debs! Book management is always an ongoing chore at our house, which is also lovely, old, and riddled with doors and windows.

    It's a little easier for me to part with books - like Cindy, I think some habits formed while living the military life stay with you. Unless it's REALLY important, out it goes when the moving van is due.

    That having been said, after judging the Best Novel Edgars last year, I still have a couple hundred new books Ross and I are sure we want to read/reread, even after giving away almost 400 to our local libraries. We've temporarily solved the problem by... getting a new pair of bookcases for the room-formerly-known-as-the-playroom.

  18. I had a philosophy professor (decades ago) who actually fastened books together into couches and armchairs. It was pretty interesting and very uncomfortable.

  19. I am a book junky and I admit it. (Hello, my name is Libby and I am a book addict.) My husband says I don't "read" books, but I 'devour" them. He gave me a e-reader and wondered if I'd use it. I do. It is quite handy (!) for air travel. Half of my weight allowance is not taken by bound books now. There are numerous sites that offer announcements about low priced and free ebooks. The choice of font size is useful and having a built on light is really good.
    However, the amount of time that one cannot use an ereader on a plane is quite inconvenient. (I can browse the airline magazine and skymall only so long.) I like to be able to flip back in a book to double check a previous statement or event. That is impossible with an ebook. And how do I scan my books to decide what to read next? There are over 1,000 books in my ereader at this point. On a shelf I can browse spines for inspiration. Electronic spines don't work.
    Do, it is a very mixed bag.

  20. Scary. Just scary.

    My husband is a rabid book collector. If I were too, there wouldn't be room for people in our house.

    My office is tiny, about 8x14, and I have to get rid of a book to shelve a book. Every month I donate boxes of books to my library's bookstore and to my local senior center and still my shelves are full.

    I do love my books but yes, I'm ready for the digital revolution. My husband will never be.

  21. Books breed and multiply when we're not looking, I'm convinced. That's the only explanation, Hallie.

    We bought this house nearly 28 years ago, and the biggest reason I wanted it was for the built-in bookshelves in three rooms. Since then we raised three kids here, and a nephew who lived with us for half a year. Between that and having reference books for sewing/crafts, writing, and a zillion bird and wildlife books (some of them written by my husband), well, those shelves are insufficient.

    Six years ago or so I called the public library and they came and hauled away 1,000 books. You couldn't even tell a book was removed, and now it's back to its old, crammed state again. Time to cull again.

    I like to keep series, especially of authors I like. But knowing and liking ever more authors isn't helping the situation! E-books help, but obviously not enough.

  22. Marianne in MaineJuly 6, 2013 at 3:24 PM

    My post disappeared. Did I say something wrong?

  23. I'm another late convert to e-readers, but it does make storing books easier. My house is very small so last year we did a big purge and donated boxes of books to the University Women's book sale, which helps fund their scholarships. That took some of the sting out of giving away the books

  24. Debs, oh courageous book sorter... I have done similarly three times now, and I'm falling further behind. Last night I discovered I had ordered three copies of Linda Rodriguez' Every Broken Trust. I would have given the two extras to the two friends I had already given copies to as birthday gifts.

    When I am not using my iPad-mini to listen to my books from Audible, I use it as an e-reader. I love it for all the same reasons you mention. Plus I love the bookmarking features and places to put notes, highlighting capability, and ability to check definitions in text, as well as resources like maps and histories… I get into my reading.

  25. Debs, I so admire you!

    I, too, live in an old house with lots of windows and doors (and art on the walls)--and bookcases everywhere, including the kitchen, dining room, bedrooms, bathrooms, and doors (over-the-door bookshelves for paperbacks). When repairmen come into my house (bookshelves even in the small entry hall), they look around and say, "My God! Do you read all these?" I don't even tell them about the shelves and boxes in the basement, attic, and garage.

    Then, there's the two offices where my husband keeps the books he publishes through his day-job university press and his own spare-time small press and where I keep all the books publishers send me for reviews and my own books and books I'm in (in various editions).

    We're in book trouble here and need to get rid of some (and this after the Brandeis Used-Book Sale carted away over 2,000 books several years ago). Now, my youngest and his 30 boxes of books are moving back in with us temporarily. *sigh*

    We need to go with e-readers, but I don't like reading books on the computer when I spend so much time on it all day anyway. Husband is a total Luddite and in love with physical aspects of books--he acquires and designs them, after all. Son likes his Nook, but says some books (many!) still have to be in hard copy.

    Is there hope for this family?

  26. E-books: not much; afraid I'll drop 'em in the bathtub. I have a few on my iPad; husband reads everything via his iPad. I'm a quilter: fabric constantly battles books for shelf space, fabric usually wins as the public library is a mile away; best thing about living in Arlington, that library (oh, do we still have a couple of ball teams? Public library is a bigger winner!).
    Nice to carry a book on the mobile phone, too.

  27. I find it very difficult to weed out books, although I have done so on occasion. When traveling, I've always followed the rule that "there's always room for one more book." I am trying to use the public library, but sometimes I just want a specific book NOW. But I try to stay away from bookstores unless I need cheering up and want to avoid ice cream! And I've even told people "no books for room!"Not a convert to ebooks, although my nephew loves his Kindle and if I ever get the chance to travel again, I may look into it.

  28. I started by getting all my favorite writers on my Nook (since most of their books were in hard copy and take the most space). I like being able to take them with me to the Doctor's office, etc. So I started with my sets of Mary Higgins Clark, Carol Higgins Clark, Mary Jane Clark, Catherine Coulter, Tom Clancy and Deborah Crombie. Then I started on Tess Gerritson & Joanne Fluke I asked my family for B&N gift cards. Now I am working on Allison Brennan & Rosemary Harris' books.

  29. Great topic to discuss! I'm literally tripping over books even as I type. There's a pile stacked up beside me no to review or talk about when Molly on Mysteries talks resume in September.

    There are piles stacked around MY chair in the den, with several escapes that have fallen from the stacks onto the floor around me.

    I used to have a pretty good system for the books I planned to read: I stacked them on the trunk in front of the sofa. Gradually those stacks grew taller and taller—even a fast reader would have trouble going through the 18/day I was getting a couple of times a week.

    One night after my very patient husband lay down on the sofa he asked, piteously, "Could you move some of those books? I can't see the TV."

    You'll notice I haven't mentioned the library of signed first editions I've gathered over the years………