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Setting up and then dismantling your personal library

DCFC0097.JPGSome of us who grew up before e-books, kept the hardbacks and paperbacks we accumulated. One shelf became two, two became three and so on until the house and garage no longer had any wall space for new shelves or boxes of books.

My father also collected books–for reading and reference–not rare editions destined to sell for a fortune years down the road like rare paintings, stamps and coins. In his later years, I believe he probably gave away 10,000+ books to university libraries. In that regard, he was lucky in that so many of his books focused on journalism, he had more than enough to help some fledgling college programs get their libary collections started.

I probably still have many of the books on this shelf from my high school days.

I probably still have many of the books on this shelf from my high school days.

He knew also that his three sons, with their multiple interests, were likely to enjoy reading most of the other books after he was gone. With that in mind, my brothers and I were invited to go through all the books on all the shelves and place our first initial on the inside front covers of our favorites. I still have many of my father’s books on my shelves with an “M” in a circle.

While I don’t like all the rank and privilege associated with the kinds of families we see on programs like Upstairs, Downstairs and Downton Abbey, I like the family continuity especially when it comes to an association with the home place for multiple generations and for the maintenance over the years of collections of books. The personal library lived on and was added to even though some of the heirs had different tastes in books or, perhaps, never went in the library.

As generations, tastes and styles change, leftover books are expected to disappear at subdivision garage sales for pennies on the dollar. Some of my father’s things disappeared that way, too, because his house was larger than my town home and–while we absorbed a lot–my brothers and I had no room for the collected furniture, appliances and books my parents gathered for a lifetime.

Such things seem far less dear to people today. New pots and pans are deemed better than mom’s pots and pans; new tools from Home Depot are seen as better than what grandpa and dad left behind on their work benches. That’s a shame, really, especially when old things still work. Today, people want everything now, so they go out with credit cards and buy things in their 20s that their parents didn’t have until their 30s or 40s and that their grandparents didn’t have until their 50s or 60s.

So, by the time people inherit the old stuff, their houses are filled with new stuff, and just how many old hammers, plates, coffee pots, and even books does a young family need?

Yep "Downton Abbey" has the kind of space I need.

Yep “Downton Abbey” has the kind of space I need.

Unlike my father and mother who lived in the same house for the last 50 years of their lives, I’m doing what a lot of others my age are doing: downsizing. When you plan to move to a new place that, for one reason or another, will have 20% less space, a lot of old stuff will have to go. Much of it’s junk: copies of books and magazines and brochures and catalogues that were important during one hobby or career phase or another. They’re easy to pitch.

But the books are hard to get rid of, partly out of fondness and partly because it’s difficult for those of us who love books to throw them in the trash when no library or relative wants them and the prospective buyers on eBay and Amazon expect me to sell them for mere pennies.

I see the paradox in this: by the time one gets his or her library into a worthwhile collection, it’s time to get rid of it. On the other hand, without a Downton Abbey family of multiple branches and generations, I no longer have the “luxury” of keeping books I look at once every few years.

They’re just things, after all.



  1. Yes, but there are things and then there are THINGS. My heart’s right there with you. It’s hard to get rid of books.

    April 30, 2014
    • Well, yes, books (as things) take priority over a lot of other things. 🙂

      April 30, 2014

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