Start Spring Cleaning Sorting Book Shelves

kids readingSome women collect jewelry, shoes, home décor: my tastes are simple – I hoard books. Shelves line the hallways, living room, bedrooms, basement and attic. My house is so chock a block full of books stacked triple deep, I posted a warning for visitors. “Danger Falling Books!”

When my friend told me she was collecting books to donate towards a library in Somaliland, I set a goal to reduce my collection. Like a librarian, I went back into the stacks.

As I shuffled through the shelves, my children’s lives unfolded from “Good Night Moon,” to “The Runaway Bunny,” to the Bernstein Bears, the Boxcar Children, Babysitter Club, Sweet Valley Twins, and Thoroughbred series. And oh my, the childhood classics like Nancy Drew, Hardy Brothers, and Jack London. Who could imagine we would one day live in “Heidi” land?

I relived the memories of curling up on the bed with a tow headed boy tucked under my arm and dark haired girl under the other as we read, “The Pain and the Great One.” We recovered from ear infections, sore throats, and stomach bugs by rereading, “ Mrs. Bunny’s Get Well Soup” and “The Velveteen Rabbit.”

I can’t imagine a home without books. In my family, reading was a gift passed down from one generation to the next. My kids learned to love books by osmosis. They grew up reading under the bed covers, in the bathtub, and à table. During dinner, they sneaked peeks at their books hidden under the table to avoid their father’s scowling eyes.

Books marked the rites of passages. How could anyone my age ever forget Maya Angelou’s “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” and Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road?” Not to mention the works of Margaret Atwood, James Baldwin, Alice Walker, or Steinbeck, Hemingway, Fitzgerald and the wonderful classics from “To Kill A Mockingbird,” to “The Diary of Anne Frank” to “Huckleberry Finn.”

As I sorted, I rediscovered some favorite authors like Joyce Carol Oates, Toni Morrison, and Jane Hamilton. “Beloved” was so good and I had to read “The Book of Ruth” again too.

Other selections marked stages of our lives from raising kids cross culturally and bilingually to enduring teens to letting go. One shelf holds a collection of green Michelin travel guides for every region of France and canton of Switzerland. Another section houses writers’ tips a go-go with books on how to write humor, travel, sports, memoir, and fiction and develop action, dialogue, and character.

I used to be a sucker for self-help books guaranteed to cure everything from chronic fatigue to back pain to headaches, as well as every mystery disease that fell under the “syndrome” category for lack of a better, more believable term. Fitness guides like “Yoga for Dummies” and “Pilates for Beginners” come out of retirement at regular intervals.

One shelf holds a ridiculously large collection of every basketball biography ever written in hard back, no less. Others are filled with the family’s favorite mysteries, Agatha Christie, Jack Higgins, John Grisham, David Baldacci, and Tony Hillerman.

We also have a collection of French authors. Hardback comic books, an integral part of French culture, were big hits in our home where our children learned history through the Les Aventures de Tintin, the misadventures of Asterix & Obelix, and the gaffs of Gaston.

Certainly our son’s deadpan humor was also honed from the pages of Calvin & Hobbes and that crazy fat cat Garfield.kids reading-3

We accumulated more books than the local library. Parting with any created a major dilemma; each page held a treasured memory of a visit from family. Over the years, grandparents, siblings and friends brought oodles of books tucked in suitcase corners to help foster our children’s love of language and learning. Our home became a lending library for guests crisscrossing the Atlantic. Bring a book over; take a book back.

I’ll be the first to admit my obsession is out of hand; I haven’t gotten far pruning those bookshelves. Each time I peruse a title, I get caught back up in the action on the page.

Spring-cleaning shelves fell by the wayside; I set a new goal – reread all my favorites.

Posted in education, family, humor, inspiration, relationships, social view.

32 Comments

  1. Yes, Haralee’s comment is hilarious. Funny I can’t picture you as a purse collector, Lynne. I rarely carry a purse these days as anything hanging off my shoulder pulls on my back making me walk even more crooked. I still carry one those retro fanny packs. Decked out in my sweats, hoody and tennis shoes, no one would ever believe that I lived in Paris for over a decade. You think I would have picked up some sort of fashion sense from the French.

  2. Pat, oh how I can relate to your overabundance of books and how hard it is to part with them. They just become part of the woodwork. Yes, forget spring cleaning. Let’s read!

  3. Pat, oh how I can relate to your overabundance of books and how hard it is to part with them. They just become part of the woodwork. Yes, forget spring cleaning. Let’s read!

  4. I have been pruning my bookshelves with some success. My argument to myself is that if I haven’t read the book in years, others may as well enjoy it. The books I can’t get ride of? My books by Iowa authors; the classics, including books from my college lit classes that changed my thinking; books autographed by authors; and books on writing; collections of short stories; and … Okay, I haven’t gotten as far as I thought. Good luck!

    • Thanks for commenting, Carol. I always love to hear from you. You sound just like me. I had categories of books I could not part with along with favorite authors. In the end, I gave up and curled up in bed with a good, ol’book. Pure bliss.

  5. I understand your situation! Spring cleaning with the best intentions often leads to other activities and discoveries. Make you feel better, a woman in my book club has so many books in her old home her living room floor is sinking! Is she getting rid of some of her books? She is shoring up her home’s foundation, something that obviously needed to be done but is costly. For her it is worth it.

    • Haralee, even though a sinking floor is no laughing matter for your book club friend, I roared when I read your comment. Our home is made of concrete, so the floors are still holding strong, but I have had book shelves crash due to the weight of those beloved words.

  6. How fortunate we are to have parents who modeled reading and helped shape all of us into readers. Reading is still one of my favorite activities…and the places I have been able to visit through books! I had to laugh when I first read this piece because I have seen your book shelves….. I can clearly picture you sitting on the floor surrounded by piles of books…..and making no headway on your cleaning project. Ha! Loved the pictures, too. Can’t believe our “baby” is graduating from high school!

    • I bet one floor of our house is lined with book gifts from you. Thank you for fostering the love of reading in our kids, so that they could learn English while living in French speaking countries growing up. The investment you made into their education in book reading, discovery trips and story telling helped shape a future teacher and a doctor, both of whom still love books.

  7. How fortunate we are to have parents who modeled reading and helped shape all of us into readers. Reading is still one of my favorite activities…and the places I have been able to visit through books! I had to laugh when I first read this piece because I have seen your book shelves….. I can clearly picture you sitting on the floor surrounded by piles of books…..and making no headway on your cleaning project. Ha! Loved the pictures, too. Can’t believe our “baby” is graduating from high school!

    • I bet one floor of our house is lined with book gifts from you. Thank you for fostering the love of reading in our kids, so that they could learn English while living in French speaking countries growing up. The investment you made into their education in book reading, discovery trips and story telling helped shape a future teacher and a doctor, both of whom still love books.

  8. I collect books, necklaces AND shoes… However, it was very difficult to move to Australia and limit the books I took with me. I couldn’t bear to part with some, so I have several boxes in my house in the UK stored in the attic. I can’t even remember what they are, so out of sight out of mind maybe? My Dad had so many books in his house that when he died it took my brother several weeks to clear them. He found multiple copies of the same books in piles on sofas, chairs, the floor and any spare space. As a fellow English teacher, maybe his book obsession was even a little more serious than yours! Enjoy discovering your old books and when you have book busted (spring cleaned), I would reward yourself with a couple more new books 🙂 xxx

    • Love it, Rach. When I am “book busted reward myself with a couple more books.” I know I should get a kindle to cut down on paper, but I still love living retro and holding a book in my hands. I would have treasured taking a peek into your dad’s house and seeing his collection. I can understand why you had to put some favorite titles in storage even though they couldn’t fit in your suitcases when you moved to Australia.

  9. Haralee’s comment is priceless! Wish it were on a graphic so we could share it. Pat, at first I was thinking of my own stripped-down bookcase and then I thought about my purse rack. I’m just as attached to each one of them. They sit there, gathering dust and bursting with potential.
    Your photos are so rich. No wonder you can’t bear to get rid of your books. Such history!

    • Yes, Haralee’s comment is hilarious. Funny I can’t picture you as a purse collector, Lynne. I rarely carry a purse these days as anything hanging off my shoulder pulls on my back making me walk even more crooked. I still carry one those retro fanny packs. Decked out in my sweats, hoody and tennis shoes, no one would ever believe that I lived in Paris for over a decade. You think I would have picked up some sort of fashion sense from the French.

  10. I am so with you. We must have thousands of books — they’re falling out of every shelf, every closet, every cabinet — and, although I really do clean out on a regular basis, I know I will never part of most of them! I can’t imagine a house without books — I think it would have no soul.

  11. Comic books and Boxcar Children in the back of your parents’ station wagon on the way up to the cabin. Good memories!

  12. Comic books and Boxcar Children in the back of your parents’ station wagon on the way up to the cabin. Good memories!

  13. We have so many books, too. We have a very large finished basement with shelves covering the entire perimeter filled with books. Each bedroom is overflowing with them, as is my study … I really need to do some pruning as well.

  14. And that’s exactly why I don’t want to begin spring cleaning of books, Pat — because then, I’ll never get anything done, for re-reading them!! Great idea to share your bounty with others less fortunate — and it goes without saying that you could save a LOT of space by simply adding a Kindle to your collection, ha! Yes, I know. Me, too. There’s just something SPECIAL about holding a “real” book in my hands — smelling it, feeling the pages, and knowing it’s part of my memories!

    • Debbie, like you I still love the feel of a book in my hands with a new adventure just waiting with the turn of a page. Guess I will spring the closet and leave the books alone.

  15. And that’s exactly why I don’t want to begin spring cleaning of books, Pat — because then, I’ll never get anything done, for re-reading them!! Great idea to share your bounty with others less fortunate — and it goes without saying that you could save a LOT of space by simply adding a Kindle to your collection, ha! Yes, I know. Me, too. There’s just something SPECIAL about holding a “real” book in my hands — smelling it, feeling the pages, and knowing it’s part of my memories!

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