When I read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up several years ago, I embarked on a decluttering project over the winter recess holiday at the place where I work. While I’ve done a good job of culling books in my collection for years, I found a lot of things to give up that I no longer needed.
Recently, I did another cull — mostly of my non-religious books (scifi, cookbooks, and the like) to prune it. Those books live in the guest bedroom/media room in my apartment, and many of them survived KonMari. I find it helpful, when getting rid of books, to ask a set of questions. “Does it spark joy?” is useful for many objects, but with books, I like to think of it like this:
- Do I need this title for reference?
- Is the author someone whom I would like to have sign this?
- Is this a collector’s edition? (I have a few from authors I really like. They come limited-ed print, signed and numbered.)
- Have I ever actually cooked anything using this cookbook?
- Does someone else need this more than me?
The part of my book collection that has expanded over the past year is my religious one, although I culled a lot of books I’d purchased in my teens back when I decluttered. Almost everything within it falls under the reference/study category, especially since I prioritize primary texts. While I could get many of these things from a library, having them on hand for reference is a good way to make sure I have what I need, and I like taking notes in the margins while I read. Writing in margins is against library policy, unless — rarely — my library has a usable ebook for the item I need, AKA I’ve hit the jackpot and can digitally annotate a DRM-free, searchable PDF. (The platform I hate the most is Ebrary because its ebooks are barely usable.) 😆 So.
Occasionally, when I get a library book and realize it would be better to have in my collection, I’ll see about acquiring it. An example is Hermias: On Plato Phaedrus 227A-245E, trans. Baltzly & Share. I originally checked it out from the library and read it. When it came out in the paperback, I tried to acquire it, but the USPS package was (probably, unless it’s lost on the delivery truck, but that’s unlikely given the amount of time that has passed) stolen, so I now have the ebook. (Hopefully, if it was stolen, the thief didn’t throw it out, decided to read it, and is now motivated to be a better person.) Another example is Proclus’ Parmenides commentary — I started out with a library book, realized I needed to take notes in-margin and that the binding on the library copy was failing and I didn’t want to touch it, and I had to wait for a used book within my price range to appear. I use wish lists on used book sites.
Some books, I have in print-only; others, e-only. When it comes to popular works, I prefer using the library (print or e) because most of them are of limited use beyond the initial reading experience, and I don’t need to take notes in them.
A few books, like the Orphic Hymns, I have in both formats because I use them often and would like to reference them on the go. An embarrassing personal flaw I need to work on is that I will often stress purchase them when I feel unsafe or like knowledge will be taken away from me, like that week after the 2016 election when I broke my budget buying books because I was irrationally afraid they wouldn’t be there later. (I was actually just scared of Dominionists due to baggage from where I grew up.) It’s a weird response, especially since at that time, my head was in a weird place; focusing to read was a bit harder than it is now due to a combination of that and the attention-sucking effects of social media. (I hadn’t left Facebook yet.) Like, I didn’t even read De Mysteriis, one of the books I purchased, cover to cover until earlier this year. I also don’t allow myself to visit used bookstores without another person present. Books are my minimalist kryptonite, but then I read them, so it’s harder for me to confront that I need to slap my own hand away from new ones, stop being so acquisitive, and get to the root of my knowledge-focused anxiety. In reality, just as you can overeat healthy foods like kale, you can over-indulge in healthy books.
This is my religious book collection as it stands right now, except three books are actually in my main shrine area because that’s where I use them most frequently.
I’m running out of shelf space and will need to figure out how to manage that. For the moment, however, I’m done acquiring books because I have what I need for the foreseeable future to do the kinds of study that I want/need to do — tidying up by reading some commentaries, then moving into my 2020 read of Plato’s more enormous works. And, of course, I’m writing poetry, informal essays on this blog, and polytheistic scifi, and there are a few novellas I really want to read, so my life basically revolves around words.