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I've posted numerous times that I've been in something of a reading slump. I am happy to report that I've gotten better. I read over 100 pages of a novel on New Year's Day. And I've been reading it over the past two days too. I might actually finish. It was quite a road to get here, though, and I still have a ways to go. This is a problem that I've thought about a lot because reading is my favorite way to relax after a long day and it's my favorite way to pass the time, so not getting a whole lot of pleasure out of reading is really quite problematic for me--and I'm sure for many of you if you've ever found yourself in that situation.
I've been celebrating because I think I finally pinpointed a big part of the problem. Cue the trumpets and the dancing bears!
The sheer volune of books that I've accumulated since I joined the book blogging community when I was a junior in college has seriously been stressing me out. I met all of these people that I really like and I've trusted their judgment. So when they say they like a book, I think I'll like it too--I buy it. When they mention reading a book, I think that I need to have it too so that I can read it...sometime--I buy it. But when you follow 150 book bloggers on Twitter and who knows how many book blogs and you subscribe to these mailings--it can get a bit overwhelming. I had to keep buying bookshelves. I kept spending too much of my paychecks, buying books (and food and clothes) when I should have been saving more of it for tuition and the future. I began worrying that the room over my parents' garage--where most of my books live--would collapse (it wasn't a serious concern, but how many more books could I add before it was?). I crammed my closet so that I could have more shelf space. I'm not really proud of any of this.
I wasn't adding to a collection--I was becoming something of a hoarder and not in the funny way we joke about being book hoarders (obviously, I wasn't to the level of needing an intervention, but...). I was buying books that, by the time they arrived on two-day shipping, I was "over" having. I was willing to send them to my parents' house on my next trip. That's not fair to the books. And that was rather irresponsible of me...in a lot of ways.
On top of the hoarding, I started feeling judged by my books. They'd sit on their shelves and say "pick me, pick me!" There were some books that I'd routinely think about reading and maybe even pick up. But there were many more books that I just couldn't really remember why I bought them or really see myself reading them. Gradually, I felt so much pressure to pick the right book, the book that would make all of my reading troubles disappear, that I wasn't able to pick any books. And my reading suffered tremendously. I devolved to the flitting from book to book habit.
So what's a girl to do?
I decided that I needed to purge. I needed to get rid of the books that I knew I would never read. I don't read that quickly. I like watching TV and sporting events and doing other non-reading activities. I'm not going to read the 1,001 book that you must read before you die. I think I can make a pretty good dent in reading the major classics. As for everything else...So what if I read a novel (or, hell, even just part of a novel) by some author and rather liked it? I didn't need to go out and start wantonly purchasing all of the other novels written by them, without really considering whether I'd like this other book that really had nothing to do with the first book and might actually be quite different. Maybe that one book that I liked was a fluke and the rest of their stuff really sucks and that's why it's obscure. I'm sure I'll miss out on some great opportunities, but that's OK. I can let that go.
I had to do my purging in layers. Some of them are really easy calls. That healthy cookbook whose recipes really just taste like cardboard? Gone. Others were a little bit more difficult, but still pretty easy. I don't really need to buy a biography on every author I own a book by--I can just keep a biography of my favorite authors. A lot of the others can go. I also don't really need to own everyone's collected letters or diaries. I definitely don't need four different historical interpretations of the same event or period. I don't need three different copies of a book I've never read (keep the copy with the prettiest cover, right?). And thus I filled up a tub of books that are just sitting in my room at my parents' house.
But then it gets a bit more difficult.
What do I do with books that were gifts?
Do I start reading the blurbs of the rest of the books I own and get rid of the ones that don't really sound as interesting as I had hoped, knowing that I can always get another copy if need be?
How do I reconcile myself to just donating or trading hundred (thousands, probably) of dollars worth of books? Even if I sell them all, I won't make that much money.
Since I'm not big on poetry or short stories, what do I do with all of those?
In the end, it's worth it. I can relax. I can see the forest for the trees. I can have a manageable to-read pile. I can focus on the truly great books as opposed to holding on to super obscure books that really just taunt me and that I probably won't actually get to. I'll probably miss out on a few things. But I feel pretty confident that I'll hit the highlights and that if a book is really totally me, it will find its way across my radar at a time when I will jump right on it.
Have you ever done a book purge? What were your criteria for selecting which books you'd keep and which books you'd get rid of?