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Which Books To Keep? - Making Really Hard Choices

This is the process I used to reduce my personal library from hundreds of books to dozens and how to keep it "fresh" as I continue to read great works.

Author: Paul Burton
Date: Mar 20, 2011 - 3:55:47 PM


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When I downsized to a small cottage about six years ago, I had to pare down the number of books I owned. This was a huge issue for me. I'm a book fanatic. All hope is lost when I walk into a bookstore. We're talking hundreds of dollars a visit. In fact, if I have less than 15 books scattered around the house waiting to be read, I get nervous!

As you can image, this need to reduce my library to a manageable level for the new house - all of 1050 square feet - caused much rending of garments and gnashing of teeth. Instead of spiraling down into analysis paralysis, I simply created a three-step process to deal with the situation. I am, after all, a process guy!

The Where

I looked around for ONE nice bookshelf that was an attractive addition to my living space. I found a library-style two-shelf bookshelf at Pottery Barn that worked perfectly. It'shas a 45 degree angled shelf on top and a flat shelf on the bottom. It's covered by a flat top which is great for displaying other items of interest. It cost a bit more than I had intended on spending, but it has been worth the investment to have the quality and longevity of the product.

The How

I had to reduce the number of books I owned from hundreds to dozens. I did this by sorting through all of them and creating a 50 "Top 10" pile. The books in the 50 "Top 10" pile were not only my very favorite books but they also represented a breadth of authors and genres that I wanted to keep in my life. Books (and bookstores) have always represented peacefulness to me, so their presence is very important.

The "Living" Library

The bookshelf holds just about 50 books in it. So, whenever I finish a book I want to add to the collection, I must weigh that decision against what's already there. There are some simple rules I follow, e.g., if an author is represented more than once, then only my most favorite gets to stay and room is made for the new book. However, sometimes tough choices can be involved when the easy culling options aren't available. The end-game value of those choices is a mindfulness that doesn't exist when endless storage is available for things so near and dear.

The Digital Revolution - Something Gained, Something Lost

As a consultant who travels constantly, my Kindle (and soon-to-be-acquired iPad2) are terrific editions to my work toolkit. However, they lack the tactile feel of a book and the ability to easily make and find marginal notes leaves a lot to be desired. Moreover, whenever I walk into a room with a bookshelf full of books in it, I am immediately drawn to the spines and start perusing the titles. Books have the presence and weight of time to themwhich is lost in the sleek design of a Kindle.

Though this physicality of books may be rapidly becoming anachronistic, it is a vestige of the pre-digital era that I embrace as meaningful in my life.



View all articles by Paul Burton

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