My fairytale home library dream is dead. Am I just hoarding books? | James Colley

I used to dream of owning a home with a library like the one in Beauty and the Beast. A ladder that glides along the impossibly high shelves filled with more books than you could read in 10 lifetimes. That was before I understood that the idea that you would have one house that you were able to live in for many years (and god forbid, add shelving) would itself be a fairytale. Packing up these books, disassembling their low-grade flatpack bookcases, hauling them across the city and interstate, and trying to reestablish this budding library time and time again has made me thoroughly fall out of love with my old dream.

I do not wish to rid myself of every book, but I no longer wish to keep every book. At some point, I crossed the line from reader to hoarder and I need to go back. These are the books that do not pass the Marie Kondo test. These books spark no joy. If anything, the many bookmarks still stuck less than halfway through them conjure embarrassment. I know I’m never going back to finish them. They know I’m never going back to finish them. It is time to end this charade.

But coming to terms with this psychologically is only part of the battle. There’s now a bigger and much more practical question: what do you do with books you don’t want any more?

No one has prepared me for this. There doesn’t seem to be an easy answer. The traditional response seems to be offloading them on to a charity shop but that feels gross. Why should they be burdened with my problem? I already know these aren’t good books! All I would be doing is hoping someone else will be fooled the way I was fooled. The same goes for Street Library boxes, an utterly charming idea that seems to have become a dumping ground for everyone’s third copy of the Billy Connolly biography, surplus crime fiction and weirdly, always the Twilight book New Moon.

If I am unwilling to pass my burden on to someone else my options become far more limited. Simply tossing them in the bin is unthinkable, even if I use the recycling bin. Winter is coming but using them to keep the fire going feels a little too German.

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Am I doomed to become one of those god-awful DIY people who turn a stack of books into a knife block and consider it aesthetic? Do I just lean into the problem and start stacking these up to build a pyramid I will one day be laid to rest in?

I want to have one of those cute little bookshelves like you see in a magazine, with flowerpots, ceramics, and a few particularly meaningful books with off-white covers that say “I know how to read but I am still beautiful”. What I have is a fire-hazard. A overflowing graveyard of paper that says “he was found dead but not for a few days”.

So far, I have only found one technique to pair back the collection that actually works. It’s a good one so I will let you in on it in case you are in a similar predicament to me. The absolute best way to get rid of a book you don’t want any more is to give it to your friend and say that they are only to borrow it, you love the book and want it back as soon as they’re done. That will guarantee you never see it again.

James Colley is a writer and comedian based in Sydney

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