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Random ramblings of a programmer, photographer, journalist and runner

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laptop, geek, MacBook, bursting, breakout

Books and Small Spaces

I'm starting to think about seriously down-sizing my library. As in shedding more than three-quarters of the books.

I have -- thank you, Delicious Library -- 793 books on my shelves. Except that I had to get them out of the hall to get the sofa out, so in fact they're now mostly in boxes or stacked on the lounge floor.

And I'm not sure I want to put them back. Even if I went for shelving with a more slimline profile than the four Billy bookcases where they normally reside, they're still taking up a heck of a lot of space. They make the hall seem narrow. And they were a bit of a pain when they were in the lounge, as they were in the first place, taking up a whole wall, and normally being relatively inaccessible, what with having a sofa in front of them.

And how many of them have I read this year? I'd say it's about six. And most of them were new purchases, rather than re-reading any of my "existing stock".

Much as I think I love, or at least like, most of these books -- I had a clear-out of the dross a couple of years ago, and not much new dross has crept back in -- I have to accept the fact that they're mostly just gathering dust, and quite a lot of dust. And there are many that, at my current rate, I won't have read again before 2179.

I also think that e-books are a definite part of the near future. Rather than it being an either-or decision, I think we'll mostly see a similar pattern as we're starting to see for music, where we'll have our stuff on a mixture of media -- actual real copies for the stuff we truly love and want to hold in our hands or have on our shelves or get signed; virtual copies of the second-stringers, and the library, or perhaps a subscription to a rental service, for the rest (serivces like O'Reilley's Safari, where you sign up to have a couple of "book slots" that you can rotate their techie volumes through, up-to-date with the latest corrections, spring to mind.)

But it's going to be difficult to part with a lot of these, I'm sure. I know the kinds of things I'm keeping: the stuff from my very favourite authors, from Hemingway to Jeff Noon. And I know the kinds of things I'm getting rid of: the Peter F Hamiltons, the Doctor Who novels I bought just after I interviewed Justin Richards, the Lawrence Blocks. And quite why I have two full bibles plus two separate New Testaments is beyond me.

But it's the stuff in the middle that's going to cause me problems. The Ian Rankins, say, or the oddities like Crowley's Moonchild, which I feel a strange connection to but which I'll probably never read again, even some of the Asimov -- yes, okay, so it's Asimov, but will I ever read The Robots of Dawn again? And, let's face it, if I do have a hankering to read any Asimov, or Rankin, or anything by anyone like them again, chances are good I can find it for free a mile away in Bristol Central Library.

When you have an emotional attachment to something you think of as "mine!" it's difficult to go with what your head tells you. But fundamentally, I quite like the idea of having more space in my flat, less dust on my bookshelves, fewer bookshelves in general, and a small but very select collection of books that I really do love.

Anyway. So that's what's on my mind today. I guess I need to get all the books sorted into "yes", "no" and "maybe", and see what sizes the piles are, then try to figure out whether I really want to do this, and if so, how (I guess I'll raise the most money by selling them gradually through Amazon, say.) But that particular job may have to wait for a wet weekend, rather than the sunshine we seem to have lined up, so my unconscious will have a bit longer to dwell on the decision.

And at least I don't have my friend Thom's problems. He's thinking of giving up his lodgings completely and moving onto his (small) boat, Manta. It's not just books for him -- probably the biggest wrench in his letting go will be the grand piano that currently takes up most of his bedroom! Puts my issues with letting go of a few books into perspective...

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Both me and Chris did a cull of books a few years ago. I did it by choosing a few authors I love and only kept those, think there were about 4 or 5. Any books that I buy now are read and then more often than not given away. I don't get that much time to read these days anyway, so I think the e-book is going to be the way to go for me too as and when it becomes more mainstream.

Chris on the other hand still has many many books, he's not as ruthless as me though when it comes to de-cluttering :)

I don't think I could be as ruthless with my books as you're pondering. It took me a long time at Easter to clear out around 200 books, and some of those were dross.

If you are really serious about getting rid of a lot of books it might be worth checking out Abebooks: http://buyback.abebooks.co.uk/

We did that at Easter and ended up getting £56 for around 14 books. The downsides are it was time consuming for us to list all the ISBN numbers, you need to have at least £25 worth in your basket before they'll accept them and both what they will accept and the price offered will change from day to day. But they will send you a postage label so you won't lose anything from the sale.

Sounds good; I'll check it out, ta. I've used ABE for buying before, but not for selling.

The ISBN's will be easy -- I'll have to find all the books that I'm getting rid of in Delicious Library before I shift them, anyway, and that'll export the ISBNs for me...

We did a clear out of books a couple of years back too. What we've kept is mainly sci-fi, especially 60s and 70s paperbacks with wonderful painted cover designs! Plus newer sci-fi we've particularly enjoyed and would want to read again.

What I call "aiport fiction" always gets passed on as soon as it's read, if not left behind in a hotel or plane. Sometimes, serendipity means that, just as one of us finishes a book, we are staying in a guesthouse/ hotel with a guest swap shelf and it has good books on it!

We've gathered several piles of books since that last clear out, though Pete reads slower than me so many haven't been read yet.

If you have any good sci-fi that we haven't read, we could buy it off you, maybe?

Get rid of a book?
You mean when you've got more than one copy right?

Heh - I know that problem. Anyone want a paperback copy of Prador Moon by Neal Asher? Or a spare hardback copy of Diamond Illusio Mask by Julian May?

All my books made it with me to my new house (28 months ago), and some even made it as far as some shelves, and a few shelves have even been sorted, but in the main, they're all still in a jumble, and there's hundreds stuck up in the loft. Maybe my extensive collection isn't quite as important to me as I thought. *

I even went to the expense of buying a barcode scanner to grab all the ISBNs and put them in a DB, but I've got no further than my technical shelf...

* Bah, who am I kidding!

Yes, dear, but bear in mind that you have more storage space in your glove compartments than I do in my flat.

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