My Bookshelves

by Barbara Ross, working away on Maine Clambake #10

I’ve always been a collector of books, but when we moved to our current house in Portland, Maine, I gave myself a stern talking to. As a function of age and economics, it’s unlikely my husband and I will ever live in a home bigger than the one we are in now. (Which is already smaller than the largest one we have lived in, though we shared that one with our children.) Therefore, I declared, in this new house there would be finite space for books. Tough decisions would have to be made. Once the purge was done, if a new book came into the house, another would have to leave.

But what to keep? I’m not a big re-reader, so that wasn’t a factor. (Though I’m thinking I have reached an age where I should start. There are a lot of books I remember loving more than I remember the actual story.) I’m not sure how it evolved, but for the most part what I’ve done has been to keep the work of treasured authors and singularly treasured books. Together this collection now tells the story of my evolution as a writer, as a reader, and as a human.

I’ve gotten pretty good at reading most of the books I consume on my Kindle, which has the added benefit of allowing me to read in bed without turning the light on and disturbing my husband. Because I love bookstores and books, I’ve switched most of my print buying to hardcovers from favored authors.

There are a lot of mystery series on my shelves, of course. For the most part, they sit behind me at eye level, so it’s very handy when I’m doing a Zoom visit with a library and someone asks me about my favorite authors. I simply turn and read off the spines.

Ruth Rendell, Tana French, Julia Spencer-Fleming
Elizabeth George, Minette Walters, Kate Atkinson
P.D. James, Sharyn McCrumb, Louise Penny

Then there are the books I think of as encompassing big-hearted humor, a style very important to me as a reader, and something I wish I was better at as a writer.

Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next series, Alexander McCall’s Smith’s Scotland Street series and Professor Dr. Von Igelfeld series
Fannie Flagg, Sue Townsend, and a glimpse of some other favorites, Julia Glass, Jack Finney, Alice Munro

When you have a lot of friends who are writers, you go to a lot of book signings and afterwards you have signed books. I find it hard to part with them after I’ve finished reading. It’s even harder for books where I am included in the dedication or in the acknowledgments.

Julianne Holmes, Liz Mugavero, Sherry Harris
Barbara Shapiro, Leslie Wheeler, Jessica Ellicott, Kaitlyn Dunnett, Cornelia Kidd (Lea Wait) Dick Cass, Edith Maxwell (among many)

I have three shelves devoted to research for my Maine Clambake novels and writing topics.

My desk is a glass table without drawers so all my desk stuff is on the shelves in easy reach behind me. The notebooks on the left contain the (ever decreasing number of ) paper notes associated with each of my books.
Another shelf (not shown) is almost entirely devoted to those kinds of cookbooks published by churches from around Maine

And then there’s the flotsam and jetsam of life. Here’s an example. I have some smaller bookshelves that also contain this kind of stuff.

Photo albums brought home from my parents’ house after my mom died, more notebooks, books from my old work life

As you can see in the top photo, there are also shelves devoted to my own books. Traditionally published authors get a box of books for each edition that’s published. This used to be pretty great, but now that I’m not doing any in-person events, all four of these bookcases are double-shelved. As of Shucked Apart in February 2021 I’ll be completely out of room.

So that’s it. A treasure trove for some future archeologist trying to understand the formation of the early twenty-first century mid-list writer.

Readers: What about you? What is your book saving, purging, shelving strategy? Let us know!

42 Thoughts

  1. I had three full bookcase and had to downsize them when they started overflowing with print books. I solved that problem by keeping signed books and books where my name is included in the acknowledgment. But mostly I solved the problem of too many books is being an e-reader. Now what I do have a supply of are non-working kindles and as I type this, I will be adding another kindle to my non-working kindle supply.

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  2. I’m so busy reading the ARCs on the Kindles, that I can’t get to the paperback ARCs! I did a MASSIVE (as in a thousand) book culling when I downsized trailers ten years ago keeping only the ones I hope to get to someday. sigh. Realistically, probably not going to happen. buck to the (again growing) 13, 120 unread emails…

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  3. I love this peek into your reading life, Barb. I’m not a re-reader, either. I have two shelves that are nothing but every book by a Wicked Author. Another with books by other cherished author friends like Annette Dashofy, Leslie Budewitz, Lucy Burdette, and Susan Oleksiw. and a shelf with historical mystery authors: Vicki Thompson, Nancy Herriman, Alyssa Maxwell, Susanna Calkins. More with books by masters like Ann Cleeves, Hallie Ephron, Julia Spencer-Fleming, Louise Penny, and Kate Flora. And then there are the crime-writing reference books, the books on writing, and the groaning shelf of historical reference books for the era I’m writing in.

    And those are just the shelves in my office! My office closet and boxes on the floor hold the extra copies of my own books, and one copy of each of mine and each short story collection take pride of place downstairs.

    But that wasn’t what you asked. I basically am ruthless with books I’ve read (or not finished) that I don’t want to keep – they go in a box for the library used bookstore.

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  4. While I’m not a big re-reader, I’m also a bad book purger as well. I have entirely too many books. Between my own stuff and the books that I became the owner of after my mom died, I might not qualify as a book hoarder but I’m not going to win any kind of minimalist awards either.

    I have been getting rid of stuff here and there but it’s like spitting into the wind. I always seem to have more no matter how many I get rid of. The pandemic closing the library where I donate the books isn’t helping either. I have passed along books to some fellow readers but that doesn’t amount to a lot either.

    I do keep all my signed copies. And books that hold some sort of special meaning for me stay as well. Certain authors that I have their entire (or at least the large majority) bibliography are collections that I like to maintain. I have learned to part with books that I’m absolutely I’ll never read again. Even if I really like them which is painful even then. I mean, I might meet the author someday, right?

    But I really do need to be better about being a harsh taskmaster to myself and pare down the collection a lot more.

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  5. We went through our books a while ago and asked one question: Did we love it enough to either re-read or recommend to someone else? If the answer was no, it was re-homed. For anything new, we have a shelf for “books we recommend reading.” If it doesn’t make that shelf, it goes in a box for re-homing. Of course, with the pandemic, the re-homing has slowed, but that just means we’ll have more when we are finally able to do it.

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  6. Thanks for sharing your process, Barb. I don’t have a plan, thus my hard copy book collection continues to grow. Earlier this year, I did weed out a lot of middle grade and young adult books we’d bought at various book fairs for the kids. That freed up enough space to allow for all the books I bought from independent stores in recent months!

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  7. When we built our forever home, we made sure to have lots of bookcases since both my husband and I are voracious readers. Now he is reading more ebooks, but I really love the feel of honest to goodness print books in my hands. We should cull our books. We will cull our books, just not today! I still have books I have loved since high school and all of my read aloud books from being a librarian. It never failed that the book I wanted to read to the kindergarten children would be checked out, so I bought copies of my own. Our Grands have gone through the picture book stage and are now into the chapter books, but oh how hard it is to part with those beautifully illustrated picture books. We may need to buy some extra bookcases for my future cozy mystery books! 😉

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  8. Can’t wait to read #10! And ps love Wallace Nutting’s treasures. After two major moves and a huge purge, I only keep reference books used in my writing, books by writer friends (looking at you, Wickeds!), small scale farming and gardening books (an interest of mine), childhood classics I love, and yes, a shelf of my books.

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  9. Books are such a hoarding hobby but so many of us do it…me included! I promised myself as a child, at about 7, that I would have bookcases like a library. I finally did at more a few decades later. Notice I didn’t say how many decades. I have a wall of books in my living room. It is very hard to weed them out. I even have trouble giving away the paperbacks but at least they now get to the basement in a box ready to go to a book sale. I am getting better. The children’s books can go since the kids and grandkids are beyond them now. I am not shopping book sales and only buy hardcovers that I know I will truly want to keep, mostly history. Thank goodness I stopped collecting Pyrex when I filled one china cabinet!

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  10. Thanks so much for sharing this. It’s wonderful! I enjoy seeing how other readers categorize their books.

    I had a similar down-sizing experience and with the reading/reviewing I do, the books do multiple quickly. The book giveaways at my sites were a result of the too-many-not-enough-space syndrome. I now have a bookcase solely dedicated to giveaways, but without conferences to attend and nearby bookstores to visit, that might disappear soon.

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  11. We’ve downsized twice and the culling of books is more painful than getting rid of clothes. I’m down to hard copies of a few favorites, signed books, and reference books for writings. Cookbooks, however, that stack never gets smaller.

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  12. For a long time I bought more & more bookshelves, but now that I am planning to move & downsize I’ve slowly started purging – it’s so hard to decide what to let go of!

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  13. The books have taken over… again. I was in the process of parting with more of my children when the pandemic hit. The books were to go to the library book sale. Since our library is not accepting any books for the time being, I’m at a stand still. I guess I should just get them in a box at least. I will always keep favorite authors. Most series. Anything that I still just love. I’m trying to let go all the books I saved because I had not read them yet. Many of these I now realize, I will never read. I also kept alot of books because I thought my Father would enjoy them. I live and take care of him now. He has pretty much read what he wants of those, so…. out they need to go. I’m mostly now just adding to my Kindle. I am trying to replace my best book with ebooks as they go on sale. Physical books will alway be my favorite, but ebooks are so much more convenient. Besides, they tend to stop me from reading the end…Ehehehe. Yes, I’m one of those people.

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  14. I need to start using an ereader more because I am out of space in my condo. But I love physical books so much. And part with a book I’ve read and enjoyed? I don’t want to do that either. (And we can’t even start on my ornament collection.)

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    1. Wow. That is impressive. My nightside table used to be overflowing, but now I only keep the current book and the next books I intend to read there. I try not to buy ahead or even on Kindle buy things I’m not going to read shortly.

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  15. Ah, I am a user of the library, so the vast majority of the books I read are from there. (I could never afford my reading habits! I’m 60+ books in for 2020!) The books on my shelves are books that I have read and loved so much I needed to have a copy of my own. I may never read them again in their entirety (though I have been known to if the fancy strikes me!) but I will sometimes pull one off the shelf and read a passage. I am immediately transported back in the company of a treasured friend.

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    1. That is such a good point. There is re-reading in the entirety, which I rarely do, but dipping in and out looking for a memorable scene or passage is something I do all the time.

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  16. I, too, have boxes of books in the basement for re-sale at the library. I’m pretty good about culling books, but I still have so many! I stopped going to books sales, but I have a dear friend who sends me boxes of books several times a year. I would never tell her to not send them, so I cull what she sends and always keep a few. And I can’t get rid of any of my huge collection of Sherlock Holmes related books. (I have that Sherlock Holmes rubber ducky, too, Barb.) I guess it’s a good thing I can’t get into Canada to the Sleuth of Baker Street bookstore in Toronto where I spend an unconscionable amount of money. I seldom reread any books, but there are a couple of such delightful series that I just can’t make myself give them away,

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    1. Sherlock Holmes ducks rule! I can’t remember where I got it, but my granddaughter loves it. She thinks my study is the best room in our house, even though the guest room has a closet full of toys and a huge dollhouse out on a chest.

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  17. I have a really hard time getting rid of any books. Books are my friend and I am never without one. I have kept my favorites but as you said will probably not re read them. Too many books and so little time. A friend and I buy the cozies we like (and yours is among them) and read them and mail them to each other to read. Then they are all kept at her house. I mail her the ones she bought and mailed to me after I have read them. I mail her the ones I bought and read and she keeps them. She has a huge house and took a closet and turned it into a library. That way, if either of us ever wants to re read or have them, we can. The problem is I have way too many books to read probably in my lifetime, but keep buying my favorite authors as does she. I keep all autographed books that I have signed by the author. Many are movie stars books as I collect autographs. I have a kindle but use it when I travel to read on. I have read since I was a child. In first grade, I got the award for reading 202 books. Daddy used to take me to the library weekly and they weren’t baby books. Our family has always loved reading. Not enough book shelves, so many plastic storage bins full of books in the basement–all categorized and labeled.

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  18. I save all the books signed by an author. I do read books again. I save all the ones that I have thoroughly enjoyed. The ones that I may have read for a book club or did not enjoy very much, I donate. I have such a hard time letting books go. They also seem to be like chocolate. I just cannot get enough of them.

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