On Friday night, I cleared out my bookshelves again (Yes that’s right, I know how to have a good time).
In the last twelve months, I’ve tackled this task four or five times and said goodbye to around 200 books. I wouldn’t call what I do purging – that makes it sound like a negative exercise. It’s actually quite freeing. The books I say goodbye to have been biding their time on my shelves for long enough – when I bid them a fond farewell, it’s in the hope that they are on their way to finding new readers that really need them.
Now that I have a car, I take my books to the Lifeline warehouse and donate them to the book fair. But when I lived in Sydney, I would place the books I was ready to say goodbye to in a box and leave them in the foyer of my apartment building with a note saying ‘Free to a good home :-).’
In the two years I lived in that building, I never learned the names of any of my neighbours. In fact, I never even saw most of them. We all seemed to keep different hours and it was only the sounds of footsteps, slamming doors and random late night vacuuming that reminded me of their existence.
Having no idea what anyone’s reading tastes might be, I would try to clear out a variety of books. There was always a lot of YA – I worked in children’s publishing at the time – but I would also make the effort to throw in a bit of non-fiction too, a couple of chick lit novels, a handful of thrillers. It made me happy to see the pile in the foyer diminish each time I left my apartment – the only thing that slightly bummed me out was that the box would vanish too (Hey, they’re convenient to have lying around the house).
Did my fellow residents read the books they picked out themselves? Did they pass them on to others? Were the books they chose ones they’d been interested in reading already or did the prospect of getting something for free encourage them to try something new and unexpected? I’ll never know of course, but I hope the books brightened their days somehow. Reading the right book at the right time can change your life, I really believe that.
The more often I clear out my collection, the easier it is to let books go. During my sorting session on Friday, I chose to part with books I’d loved, books I’d read once and enjoyed, books I hadn’t cared for and books I knew I’d never get around to reading. I said goodbye to gorgeous hardbacks, signed paperbacks and even a couple of books where the autograph was made out to me in my name. This might seem horrifying to fellow book lovers, but I knew I’d passed the time in my life where I wanted to read them – and I like the idea of someone picking them up at the next Lifeline book fair and wondering a little bit about me.
Seeing my newly thinned out shelves always calms me. Not only does it make my TBR more manageable, it means I’ll feel much less guilt the next time I head to a bookshop. I really like giving books away, but of course, I love acquiring new books even more.
Manda is the co-creator of The Regal Fox.