Selling Books
February 27, 2012 1:36 PM   Subscribe

I'm thinking of selling most of my books. Have you done something similar? Do you regret it?

I'm going to be moving soon and am thinking of really paring down my personal library rather than moving it all. I'd hold onto reference books, some major classics (trying to choose just one edition of each), and some hardback poetry. Aside from that, I'd try to select about two dozen recently-purchased books I can see myself possibly reading in the next year or two. Everything else I'd take in to used bookstores. Whatever they're not willing to buy I'd dispose of. Will I regret this?
posted by Paquda to Grab Bag (40 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I have -- if you love science fiction, YA lit, or fantasy, it can be a bitch and a half to track down titles/author names in about 10 years, when you suddenly remember a story or plot you NEED to read again. Books that are part of those particular genres can be harder to find reprints of, and because so many of them get published, you might spend months trying to remember which story about a star-worshipping immortal witch struggling to make it in today's modern world is the one you read and loved.
posted by spunweb at 1:43 PM on February 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have done so multiple times, first as part of a Trans-Atlantic move, then bumming around the country.

I've held on to sentimental favorites, reference texts, and rare things that would be hard to find again, otherwise, everything has gone to the library/used book store/etc.

Don't regret it at all. What I regret is all the times I carried and shipped boxes and boxes of those heavy things. If there's anything I really wanted, I could buy it again (and have, every now and then).

I just got a Kindle, which means I can cull things down even further.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 1:43 PM on February 27, 2012

You might? But who knows?

When I moved cross-country a decade ago, I spent a few weeks talking with my therapist about getting rid of most of my books (I was already in therapy, not for book issues). I sold about 2/3s of my books, which was a lot.

The books I kept and moved....well, a lot of them are still in boxes in the attic. A lot are on shelves in accessible parts of the house. I've accumulated a whole lot more books in the last ten years. Now, if I go look for something in the attic, it's kind of like getting new books for free. I also have a growing digital library.

I kept the good reference books, the out-of-print stuff, and sentimental favorites.
posted by rtha at 1:45 PM on February 27, 2012

I sometimes wish I could magically have back every book I've ever given away or sold (hundreds and hundreds), but I sure as fuck am happy I didn't try to move with all of them.

Unless you're moving to the place you plan to die, get rid of them and stop buying anything you can borrow from the library or friends.
posted by pracowity at 1:45 PM on February 27, 2012 [3 favorites]

You won't regret it. At least, I didn't. I donated about a thousand books about 15 months ago instead of paying to move them across the country. The small set that remains now takes up a small bookshelf in the kitchen -- like you, I selected some reference books and some personal favorites. There are a few books I discovered I'd like to re-read but I enjoy the public library a lot more for the convenience. I having such a large book collection mostly appealed to my vanity, and it's nicer and simpler to go without.
posted by mochapickle at 1:45 PM on February 27, 2012

I once worked in a used book store (Half Price Books). I have always had a lot of books. But when I moved from a house to one room, I ditched any book that I knew I could walk into a bookstore and purchase off the shelf, used or new -- save about 20 books that are in my "reread forever" collection. That left me with only the books that I knew I'd have a hard time replacing.

I have not regretted it one bit, and it's been a year and a half so far.
posted by fiercecupcake at 1:45 PM on February 27, 2012

I did that before moving abroad a few years ago and haven't regretted it. It was emotionally difficult at first, because I felt guilty, but I've moved perhaps 10 times in 15 years, all in very small urban apartments, and it seemed a waste of valuable space to keep books that were no longer important to me. What helped me get over the mental hurdle was reminding myself that having library access means that I can still read anything I want to, and also to think of how much use or joy someone else could get from my books once I let them go.

This does mean that I don't have the display of books in my home that immediately indicates I'm a reader, but I'm okay with that.
posted by Neely O'Hara at 1:46 PM on February 27, 2012

I didn't. But I made sure that I had all the books I culled (that I might want to read again) backed up digitally first.
posted by elsietheeel at 1:47 PM on February 27, 2012

I have gotten rid of and repurchased big chunks of my collection a couple of times. It always made it easier to move, but it has been sort of annoying to spend yet more money on them. If I were to do that again (which is a biiiig "if" - I'm attached to my library) I'd take the plunge and convert them to ebooks as I wanted to reread them.
posted by restless_nomad at 1:49 PM on February 27, 2012

Yeah, I had to sell about 75% of my library when I moved last time. Not the least bit of regret (hell, I barely remember what I sold) considering I still have way too many books.
posted by griphus at 1:51 PM on February 27, 2012

Yeah I kept about one knockoff Sapien bookcase of rereads in the house. I do have regrets about giving away 2-3 books but there's no way to know which books you'll miss.
posted by 2bucksplus at 1:51 PM on February 27, 2012

I moved over the summer and our household, which contains three adults, got rid of an unbelievable number of books. We hosted a party where friends could take what they wanted, we sold the hardcovers and pristine paperbacks, and donated the rest to Housing Works.

We all have Kindles and/or iPads and we didn't see any reason to keep hard copies of books that weren't illustrated and had no sentimental value. Not to mention the titles that none of us were even going to read again.

None of us regret this decision. In fact, I think we'll probably do another round of thinning the collection eventually.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 1:57 PM on February 27, 2012

I got rid of almost everything except some special (autographed or special gifts) books about 5 years and 2 moves ago. No regrets.
posted by Lyn Never at 1:59 PM on February 27, 2012

I found it absolutely freeing to get rid of more than half my books. It's a literal weight off my life.
posted by runningwithscissors at 2:01 PM on February 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

I just bought bookcases after ignoring the 15 boxes of books in the corner of my spare room for 7 years. 7 YEARS. I can count on one hand the number of times I tried to dig through them to find a book I wanted. But now that I have the bookcases and they are all filled, it's nice to have my "friends" back. Do I need them? No. 7 years in box purgatory proved that. Do I like them and am I glad I have them still? Yeah.
posted by cecic at 2:02 PM on February 27, 2012

I purged my books the last 2 times I moved and am down to about one big and one small bookcases' worth (about three large boxes). No regrets.
posted by yarly at 2:06 PM on February 27, 2012

I know people who don't believe a house is a home without shelves and shelves of books, but I look in their living rooms and think "huh, guess you're not planning on moving in the next ten years." To each his own, but moving books sucks.

I keep reference books and a handful of novels that I re-read in the tub. For everything else, it's the library or ebooks.
posted by Metroid Baby at 2:07 PM on February 27, 2012

I have also. No regrets at all, either.
posted by devymetal at 2:08 PM on February 27, 2012

Oh, and curiously, the only thing I regret purging is my old law school casebooks! I never thought I'd miss them, but every so often I get a hankering to re-read Palsgraff.
posted by yarly at 2:09 PM on February 27, 2012

If you're worried about an eReader in the tub, a 1 gallon ziplock works a treat.
posted by elsietheeel at 2:13 PM on February 27, 2012 [3 favorites]

I sold several boxes of books and donated several more six months ago when I moved across the state. The only regret I have is a decorative one -- the book collection I have left doesn't have the impact on a room that it used to. But it was much, much, easier to move. I probably should have pared down further.
posted by rewil at 2:24 PM on February 27, 2012

I don't really regret selling all but maybe 15 linear feet of books. The books I kept are mostly very old (per-1950 publocations and not likely to be reprinted.)

Sometime I have pangs for the turn-of-the-last-century cookbooks and girls-school housekeeping manuals, though.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 2:35 PM on February 27, 2012

Not "most of my books" by any means, but I have over the years sold or given away hundreds. The only thing I regret is not writing a list of which books they were. Chances are you won't miss most of them (if you've carefully considered which ones you want to keep) but you will say one day many years later, "What the heck was that novel about those people in that place, you know, the one with the thing on the cover? I wish I knew what that was..." (Unless you have a freakishly good memory, then ignore me.)
posted by DestinationUnknown at 2:37 PM on February 27, 2012

I sold or gave away many books in two trans-Atlantic moves, because of the expense of shipping them. I frequently wish I had copies of books that I no longer have, and recommend against doing this with any book you are not certain you will never read again. DestinationUnknown's recommendation to keep a list is excellent, and I wish I had at least done that.

On the other hand, for any book of which you have multiple copies, of course sell all but one.
posted by kengraham at 2:40 PM on February 27, 2012

I'd recommend taking pictures of the bookshelves. Nice high-res photos where you can read the spines clearly. Then take a video of yourself de-shelving them and sorting them into boxes arranged in a pre-ordained ration, for instance 3 "give-away/sell" boxes for each "keep" box. Make a running commentary on each book or hand-ful of books that you chunk into each category.

Later, if you have time, you take the still photos into a print-shop and print out life-size poster(s).
Also later, if you have time, you can type up the bibliographical info of the sold portion of your library.

Note: you may find that you don't want to take the time. This is ok, and a sign that they mightn't have meant as much to you as expected. But you can ease the pain of taking this important step, by being secure in the knowledge that you made a historical record for posterity.

You know how in all those movies about rich people, they have a big library in their mansion estate? OK, I'm not that rich and gotta stop pretending about it.
posted by markhu at 2:59 PM on February 27, 2012

I have; Don't regret it.
posted by SampleSize at 3:38 PM on February 27, 2012

I have gotten rid of more books than I currently own and I have a one in one out rule about new purchases. This has been for about 12 or 13 years. I rarely (although once in a while) wish I had a book that I have purged. The last time I did this was about a month ago.

I still own a couple thousand and the comment about how it sucks to move books is dead on. It takes one whole day to pack and one whole day to unpack 2000 books.
posted by bukvich at 3:58 PM on February 27, 2012

I have culled several times, once quite heavily (when moving out of NYC), and while on the whole I don't regret it, having chosen well, there are definitely books I wish I hadn't gotten rid of. You shouldn't be afraid of culling, but do be careful and try not to get into a mindset of irrational exuberance: "Whee, out it goes! And you, and you—you're all going!" If you know yourself and your tastes and reading habits well enough, you should be able to lighten the load considerably and not wind up berating yourself in the future.
posted by languagehat at 4:36 PM on February 27, 2012 [3 favorites]

Just as a counterpoint, my mum and her parents got rid of most of their books when they moved to Australia from the UK in the 1970's. My mum still regrets this.
posted by kjs4 at 4:46 PM on February 27, 2012

See here. I feel vastly more secure disposing of books when I know that should I have a longing for a particular title in a year or five, I can get the digital edition instantly. Out of print and reference books, plus titles I just hold in great affection, stay.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:29 PM on February 27, 2012

Yes. Every time I move, I sell books, and then eventually buy them again. Often I buy fancier versions of the missing books, but it is always the actual physical book I sold that I realllllly want.

My advice to myself on this matter is to never sell a book. I never follow it, though.
posted by mwhybark at 6:05 PM on February 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Have you done something similar?
Probably 800 books.

Do you regret it?
I still have too many books.
posted by bru at 6:37 PM on February 27, 2012

I got rid of most of my books prior to my last move. No regrets. It probably wasn't as many books as a lot of people, but enough to motivate me to rethink keeping them.

Basically, I only kept things that were collectible, or that I knew I wanted to read again, or coffee table ans reference books. And the reference books had to contain information that wasn't readily findable online.

Now I do most of my reading via Kindle and I love it.
posted by The Deej at 8:37 PM on February 27, 2012

I did this when moving overseas. I regret selling a few of the books I had, but they probably make up less than 5% of the many boxes that I sold. Overall, I'm very glad I did it.
posted by neushoorn at 2:05 AM on February 28, 2012

Yep, don't miss 'em. But I also reread rarely, and as an academic, I have access to better libraries than most people do.
posted by ktkt at 2:34 AM on February 28, 2012

I moved hundreds of books a couple of dozen times, and finally got sick of living with a sore back so I finally sold/gave away most of them the last time I moved. I was happy about it for a few weeks and then started collecting books again, even though I had a Kindle and now have a Nook, and have hundreds of books again. And I MISS the ones I got rid of. I wish I still had them. Go figure.
posted by fivesavagepalms at 5:48 AM on February 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

After moving a 5000 volume library three times in my 20s, I got rid of almost all of my books in my early 30s and have never looked back. With my public library card and online resources, I have been able to access every book I have wanted to re-read or access.
posted by hworth at 6:37 AM on February 28, 2012

I thought quite seriously about getting rid of all my books at one point. I was pretty depressed, not that I would have admitted it to myself at the time, and I had this desperate need to have as small a footprint on the world as possible. In the end I kept them, and I'm very glad about that. I have a ridiculous number of books, especially for someone living in a single room in a shared house, but they make me very happy. I like being able to reread them and to go back to them for references and to check facts, and all those other helpful things that come with having things to hand. I also like sitting in my room and looking around at all the books that I've read. It reminds me that my life has substance and I have history and that that isn't a bad thing. When I invite people around, they can look through my books and maybe recognise a few, or see one or two titles that intrigue them. Sometimes I lend my books to friends, but only if I really, really trust them to give them back.
posted by Acheman at 9:06 AM on February 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

I am in a continual state of paring down by books as they tend to proliferate after the manner of kudzu left unchecked. This pleases me to do. I have found myself repurchasing three books I have pared out of the hundreds I have cycled through.
posted by beefetish at 10:23 AM on February 28, 2012

Response by poster: Thank you all, very much. I loved reading these answers. It's comforting to know that I'm not alone in feeling psychological meaning tied into this (and not alone in buying too many books!) . A thoughtful cull is the way to go for me, I think.
posted by Paquda at 8:50 AM on February 29, 2012

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