Books: Life’s Luggage

July 25, 2007 | 2 2 min read

Apropos of a post earlier this month on limiting and culling overflowing book collections, Scott McLemee takes on the topic (via) in Inside Higher Ed. Leaving aside whether we are somehow seeing (in a trend that would fly in the face of publishing industry gloom-and-doomers) an explosion of ill advised impulse book buying around the world, lets have a look at the solutions recently proposed. Recall that the article mentioned in the above linked post suggested conducting “regular inspections of your library;” following “the ‘one in, one out’ rule;” spending “more to buy less by sticking with hardbacks;” using the library more, and “beginning to follow the ‘Google Books’ rule.

McLemee looks at a professor, overrun by books, who has reached a breaking point. A case study of sorts:

At the start, my correspondent estimated that he had 130 feet of books occupying his office. That works out to the equivalent, with ordinary bookshelves, of about 40 to 50 shelves’ worth. He said the moment of decision came when he realized that reducing the collection to “the hard core of actually useful information [without] a lot of filler” would have a fringe benefit: “I could fit a comfortable reading chair in my office.”

It sounded like the first thing to go was the dream of reducing his holdings to just two or three dozen titles necessary for preparing lectures. This extreme ambition was revised to trimming down to roughly 60 feet of books. The effort would take a few days, he thought; and he hoped to finish before leaving on a trip that would take him away from the office for a week or so.

Along the way the gamut of emotions are felt:

There is a kind of exhilaration to it. But it requires full acceptance of the reality that there will be pain later: the remorse over titles you never retrieved from the discard pile.

Not sure why I’m dwelling on this topic of late, but I suspect has to do with the fact that we’re moving again soon, and with that comes inevitable book culling, though this time the damage should be limited. Best of all, we’re finally (finally!) going to be moving somewhere where we’ll be living for more than a year, so I can unbox all the books and put them on some sort Mrs. Millions-created shelving masterpiece. Brilliant.

created The Millions and is its publisher. He and his family live in New Jersey.


  1. Max, there's a short article in the current Los Angeles Magazine about an architecturally interesting addition to a Hancock Park home–a personal library, to be specific. Now that's what we all need!

  2. I've recently moved and had to cull my book collection. Some of it was hard to do but I've found that a good number of the stuff I'd gotten rid of, I'm not really missing. There were some books I could not do without but some of the Timmy Leary and old text books I'd held onto since college were easy to let go of.

    The way I look at it, it frees up more space for me to acquire books.

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