I'm a big fan of anything cleaning or organization-related. I enjoy keeping my apartment in tip-top shape and I definitely prescribe to "a place for everything and everything in it's place." It's not for everyone but I definitely drink the organization Kool-Aid. I read a lot of blogs about organization or design and one thing that I've noticed a lot of lately are articles that promote this idea of books as clutter. Many encourage you to pare down your books, donate the ones that you don't read, and re-organize. I think this is a great idea. I constantly try to pare down books that I haven't read in a long time or don't plan to read again. I'll pick up books at a thrift store, read them once, and put them on a shelf to gather dust. It is because of this tendency and others that I think culling the herd, so to speak, is a good thing. The Newberry Library has a book fair every year that is a great place I've found to donate books (and time). I'm sure that one could find something similar in their area.
Great, so, what's my problem with the idea of books as clutter? Well, essentially, books aren't just things. I mean, I collect elephant figurines but I'd be much more willing to just give those away willy-nilly than give away a beloved book. Some of these magazines recommend giving away books you've read, for the simple reason that you've already read them. Some say that you should switch to a space-saving device such as a kindle so that books don't clutter up your home. Some say to give away any books that you don’t plan on reading or referencing again, and that are in the public domain and can be found in their entirety online. Some say to give away books that you’ve been storing for the sole purpose of impressing your houseguests. Well, first of all, I'm not going to give away a book that I've already read just because I've read it. I like having books around to pick up again and again, even if it's just to flip through or for reading one particular part. Second of all, I'd rather have fewer things (picture frames, candles, decorations) if it means I can have more books. They aren't clutter to me like other stuff is clutter. If I have the space, I might as well fill it with something I love, right? Third, just because a book is in the public domain doesn't mean you should get rid of it. Holding a book in your hand is a very different experience from peering at a scanned image on a screen. Would you give away a Shakespeare First Folio simply because all of Shakespeare's books are in the public domain? I think not. Finally, I read all 822 pages of Moby Dick and dammit, I will wear that badge, with pride, by displaying that book next to all the others. Doing so will also signal to people who were overachiever English majors that yes, I could discuss this book with you if you'd like, why I'd be more than happy to.
Some of my books were gifts and have inscriptions in them. Many of them are books I read in school and they have marginalia and sticky notes in them. Getting rid of those would seem so personal and wrong. Sometimes I hesitate even to lend out a book because I don't want someone judging me for what I wrote in the margins. If you point to a book on my bookshelves, chances are I can tell you exactly where I was and what my life was like when I read it. The inestimable Bill Bryson is my go-to for plane rides. I finished A Short History of Nearly Everything while on a 8-hour transatlantic flight to England. Thinking about the book takes me back not only to that plane ride but to the glorious three weeks I spent in Europe that summer and all I learned there. My three copies of The Awakening take me back to last year, when I was working on my MA and chose that book for my Master's thesis. Memories of moving to Chicago, meeting new people, starting school again, and beginning my relationship with D all come flooding back.
So no, I may never read a particular book again, but that doesn't mean you could convince me to get rid of it. Books aren't clutter like figurines, candles, and other decorations are clutter. Conversely, books also aren't simply a design tool to be used as "filler" for a blank bookshelf. Books are experiences, and you can't just de-clutter your experiences.