Forgettable Books

Every once in a while, I go through my books, making room on the shelves for new books. I don’t like giving away/trading in old books, but one must be practical. I have no doubt that if I had kept all the books I’ve read over the years, I’d have thousands of them, but who has the room?

So I go through the books and decide if I ever want to read them again, or if I see my daughter one day reading them. For this reason, I keep all my classics, even if I never finished them. They are all “unread for now”, with the possible exception of James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. I got within 30 pages of the end and was unable to go on. I still couldn’t tell you what that book was about. I may well finish Moby Dick one day, and The Red Badge of Courage, and even The Last of the Mohicans, even if Mark Twain hated James Fenimore Cooper’s work.


The biggest criterion for deciding whether to keep a book or not is if I finished it, do I remember what it’s about? If the answer is no, it goes in the “go” pile.

Don’t think my “keep” pile is full of lofty pieces of literature. Among the books I’ve kept over the years is Anne McCaffrey’s Crystal Singer and Killashandra, the Dragonlance Chronicles (of which I have purchased multiple volumes) and other popular works.

Since I’ve started blogging about debuts, there have been a few sequels that I have highly anticipated. One was The Other Lands by David Anthony Durham, and which I reviewed in the fall of 2009. However, I’m having trouble getting through Canticle by Ken Scholes, even though when it arrived in the mail, I shouted “Yay!” and displayed an unseemly amount of glee. I can’t say what’s wrong with it, it’s just not grabbing me like the first one did, (although I’m still dying to find out what that thing is on the moon).

I also haven’t read The Desert Spear by Peter Brett even though I really enjoyed The Warded Man. Part of the reason is frugality; the publisher sent me The Warded Man, but not The Desert Spear. I don’t like asking for review copies unless I’m planning to do an advance review, and I let the release date slip by me for this one. Which means I’ll probably read it when it comes out in paperback.

I”m really looking forward to The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss. I’m glad he took his time producing the second book because I know the first book, The Name of the Wind, was the work of years. It’s coming out next March.

But what really surprises me is when I enjoy a first book but turn out to me “meh” on the second book. I’d hate to single any particular book out, but I’m sure you know what I mean. I’m certainly thinking of one book in particular. Sometimes when they end on a cliffhanger, the tension evaporates in the intervening time between the ending of the one book and the beginning of the other. I do better when the author gives me a Satisfying Reading Experience with the first book, because I know I won’t feel cheated by a cliffhanger on the second book.

Do you keep every book you ever enjoyed? Does your library have thousands of books? What are some of your favorites?

28 Thoughts to “Forgettable Books”

  1. Chicory

    My favorite books are the ones that make my toes curl because I’m so worried about what will happen to the heroes. πŸ™‚ I fell in love with `The Hobbit’ during `Riddles In The Dark’ when the stakes were win… or be eaten. Lloyd Alexander had me totally and completely from `The Black Cauldron’ onward. Dickens is a favorite of mine because he can make me laugh one moment, then have me biting my nails the next. Terry Pratchett is the same way. πŸ™‚ And of course there’s Gillian Bradshaw, the only historical fiction writer I collect, because her books are just that awesome.

    I don’t keep every book I read -especially since I started Goodwill shopping and realized they had a used book section, which I instantly started to treat like a special library where you could keep whatever you liked, and exchange the rest on Paperbackswap. πŸ™‚ My rule is, if the book sets beside my bed long enough without my finishing (or sometimes even starting) it, the book goes. Despite this, I had to have new shelves put in my room two years ago to help with book-overflow. πŸ™‚

    I keep books that made an impression on me when I was young. I have a huge section of Redwall books though I rarely read them anymore, and I still have The Boxcar Children which I am saving for my hypothetical future children.

    1. Tia Nevitt

      I don’t have any of the books from when I was a kid and a teenager; we got most of them at the library. The only ones I still have are Clan of the Cave Bear and Wuthering Heights, which I never could finish. So my daughter is getting a new collections.

      Unfortunately, I was a late reader, so I didn’t read many of the childhood classics except Little Women and the later Little House on the Prairie books. And I didn’t read any fantasy until I was in my 20s.

  2. We probably have a few hundred books in the house at any given time, despite our usage of the local library (which we now live 2 blocks away from). I have Desert Spear and Watcher of the Dead sitting on the desk right now, which I checked out yesterday, but I won’t get to them until I finish Wizard’s First Rule (which I bought… USED). Every once in awhile we clear out the shelves, either by boxing up books we’ve read and want to keep or by boxing up books and donating them to the local ARC (thrift store). My criteria for books I want to keep is pretty random… definitely books I want to read again, and books I just “want to have,” but I also keep quite a few I haven’t read yet, and ones I just think look cool on a shelf. Weird.

    1. Tia Nevitt

      I admit to having some of those “look cool on the shelf” books. My most recent of those was The Manual of Detection, which looks like an actual manual.

      My approach is similar to yours.

  3. SMD

    “Do you keep every book you ever enjoyed?”

    Nope. I’m somewhat like you, only my criteria is more subjective. If I dislike at book or didn’t like it all that much (maybe it was just average), then I’ll try to sell it or find it a different home somehow. If I liked a book (more than average to a hell of a lot), then I keep it. That inevitably means I keep a lot of books.

    “Does your library have thousands of books?”

    Yes. I want to have my own library when I’m done with school and out of debt and all that. Literally. A library with beautiful wood shelves and two floors with a spiral staircase and one of those rolling ladders. Right now I have close to 2,000 books. That’s a lot of books for a one bedroom apartment…

    “What are some of your favorites?”

    Too many to list, but off the top of my head: Harry Potter, anything by Tobias Buckell, Poul Anderson, Karen Miller, Kage Baker, Elizabeth Bear, and many many many others.

    1. Tia Nevitt

      Wow, that is a lot of books. I’m jealous of your library vision! I probably will never have such a library.

      I have a friend who has wide hallways, so she put bookshelves all the way down her hall. I thought it was a great way to use the extra space!

      1. SMD

        Yeah, unfortunately it’s mostly just a dream right now. I have to get pretty rich to afford that library. But one day. If I ever accidentally win the lotto, I’m buying a house along the West Coast with that library. It will be good times…

      2. I wish our hallway was wide enough to add bookshelves in. That would help a lot! {SMILE}

        Of course it isn’t anywhere near that wide. {lop-sided smile}

        Anne Elizabeth Baldwin

  4. I used to keep every book I ever bought (except for anything that I loathed with a passion). Now that there are five of us in a house that I have to keep picked up and clean, with all our *stuff* everywhere (including board books, school books, picture books, reference books), I’m more ruthless about purging. Now I’ll only keep books that I loved (instead of merely liked) and/or books I want to share with my kids.

    Some books on my keeper shelf: many by Terry Pratchett and Diana Wynne Jones, Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn trilogy, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, Megan Whalen Turner’s The Thief series, Talyn by Holly Lisle.

    1. Tia Nevitt

      I’m with you! Space has become too valuable to take up with books I didn’t really like. Maybe someone else will enjoy it, and discover a new author.

    2. Tia Nevitt

      Ooh, I’ve read Hawkspar, but not Talyn. Now I have added incentive to read it if you liked it that much.

  5. I try to keep every book that I don’t dislike, or feel is only worth reading once. Mom’s more ruthless at getting rid of some of hers. {Smile}

    Between Mom, Dad, and myself, I’d say we easily have a few thousand books. For myself alone, I’d guess between one and two thousand books. However, if I’m off, I’m under, not over. Between the shelves and the overflow piles, I must have over a thousand. Mom and Dad are the same way, so Dad intends to add more shelves someday. He already bought the brackets for them. {Smile}

    Favorites… Lloyd Alexander’s Westmark/Beggar Queen trilogy were the right books at the right time to have a particularly great influence on me. Marion Zimmer Bradley, Anne McCaffrey, and JRR Tolkien deserve mention for the sheer number of times they come up in conversation around here. {Amused Smile} Poul Anderson, Andre Norton, Josepha Sherman, Madeleine L’Engle, Robin McKinley, Mercedes Lackey and Tamora Pierce are quite good, too. CJ Cherryh and Ursula LeGuin can be when they don’t go odd and cerebral simultaneously. Patricia McKillip is good when I need a change of pace; her impressionistic tone is unlike anyone else’s. Sharon Shinn and Linnea Sinclair are new favorites. {Smile}

    I keep thinking of more… but I think you get the idea. My parents both love fantasy and science fiction, and they quietly encouraged me to, as well. {Smile}

    I can add two historical authors: Laura Ingalls Wilder, and Patricia MacLachlan. I loved Laura since I was a girl. MacLachlan is shelved in the kids’ section too, but I discovered her as an adult. {Smile}

    Anne Elizabeth Baldwin

    1. Tia Nevitt

      I’ve probably owned a similar amount off books, but I certainly don’t have that many now. I do need another bookshelf.

      1. My parents have lived in this house since before I was born. Several times we’ve added bookshelves, and felt that we didn’t have space for any more. However, that doesn’t stop us from buying books. So after a few years, we figure out new places. Like under the windows, and above other shelves on the wall. I’d say these last sets – one for each of us – really will be the last, but at this point, I know better. There are still a few blank walls that coudl be filled, and a few more that could be filled better with a less space-wasting style of bookshelf. {Smile, wink}

        Anne Elizabeth Baldwin

  6. Tim

    I have kept almost every book I have purchased. I own well over 1600 books. I even keep ones I didn’t like because my tastes change. Just because I don’t like it now doesn’t mean I won’t like it later. Space is an issue however. My wife made me get a Nook so that we could reduce the number of physical books that I get. It helps, but I do love my books.

  7. I usually know as I’m reading a book whether I want to keep it or not. I used to keep all of them, but after several long-distance moves (one across the country), I’ve become someone who gets rid of books she doesn’t intend to reread or rebrowse (I often reread just my favorite scenes instead of the whole book).

    I have no idea how many books I currently have. Some of my books from my teens and early twenties are still in my mom’s basement, and now I can’t remember which ones I kept and which I got rid of. I have a really bad feeling that in the throes of preparing to move I may have given away books I really would have preferred to keep… Oh well, if I did, I hope someone else is enjoying them now.

  8. Anne–your list of books sounds a lot like mine! I also love Jennifer Crusie and Katie Fforde (humorous romance), Dick Francis,Maria V. Snyder, Candace Havens, Mindy Klasky…

    I don’t keep every book, but I do have a lot. I go through periodically and weed. Then put back half the ones I said I was going to get rid of…

    I joined something called “Swaptree” where you can swap books and DVD’s for others you want–that helps me be more brutal about clearing out what I’ll never read again.

    1. I’ve got Mindy Klasky’s fantasy too. Her women’s fiction (with magic) ended up going to my aunt. {Smile}

      Only half the weeded books go back? You’re doing better than me! {SMILE}

      Anne Elizabeth Baldwin

  9. It sounds like no one here is quite as bad as Thomas Jefferson (yes, the one who was one of the Founding Fathers of the USA). Now there was a man who loved books. I learned how much when I studied the history of libraries in graduate school

    Books were a little harder to come by in Thomas Jefferson’s day, but he didn’t let that stop him from buying books. He kept an eye out, and kept getting new books as he spotted interesting ones.

    By the time he got up around 6000 books (yes, six thousand books) he had a serious space problem in his mansion. “Fortunately,” about that time, the Library of Congress burned down. He offered to help them restart the library. He’d donate his entire collection if they’d build a place to house it. They agree, the building was built, and the books were delivered.

    Then he went home… and discovered he now had a lot of space for new books! {Amused Smile} He started getting more immediately. Of course, it takes time to build up a collection. He’d only gotten two thousand more books when he died. That means he got 8000 books over the course of his life. That’s a pretty good collection. {BIG SMILE, wink}

    Anne Elizabeth Baldwin

    1. P.S. As I think about it, Thomas Jefferson might have sold Congress his book collection, instead of donating it outright. But if he did, it was for a very reasonable price. {Amused Smile}

      Anne Elizabeth Baldwin

    2. Pretty smart to get the government to pay for a place to house your books. πŸ˜€

      1. I know. I think so, too. {wink, SMILE}

        Anne Elizabeth Baldwin

    3. Tia Nevitt

      That’s a pretty great story about Thomas Jefferson! I think I’ve heard it somewhere before, too.

      1. Thanks. I think it’s a neqat story, too. I feel better about my own book collection when I hear about his. {Mischievous SMILE}

        Anne Elizabeth Baldwin

  10. I used to keep all my books until this last move. Trying to move 40 boxes of books cured me of that vanity. Plus I hated to dust them all the time.

    Now I only keep books I cherish and would be willing to reread. That list is far smaller.

    1. Tia Nevitt

      I went through a similar experience. You just get less portable as you get older, don’t you?

  11. Thanks. I think it’s a neat story, too. I feel better about my own book collection when I hear about his. {Mischievous SMILE}

    Anne Elizabeth Baldwin

  12. I usually decide whether a book is a keeper or a seller within about an hour of finishing it, and I keep only books that I want to read at least once more, or that I’ll refer to from time to time. I don’t have the space to keep the others, but even if I did, I doubt I’d change my system. I want my library to contain only books that mean something to me, so those are the only ones I hold onto. If I find that the book no longer does it for me after a reread, I pass it along to someone else.

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