I am, by nature, a collector. I’m not sure where I got this from, but my aversion to throwing anything away approaches a psychological disorder. Thankfully, over the past year I’ve read (and re-read) Peter Walsh’s It’s All Too Much, which has helped cure me of a lot of these tendencies. (This book, BTW, is one that will absolutely change your life. Especially if you ignore the fact that he’s on Oprah and has a weird chin beard.)
The one thing that I cannot stop collecting is books, and I’m sure I’m not the only one. There are three kinds of books I seem to compulsively buy: science fiction, theology, and history. The first because I really like sci-fi, the second because I fancy myself an amateur theologian and preacher, and the last because that’s my future profession.
But lately I’ve had to make some decisions about what books to keep and what ones to get rid of. Over time, my library has grown too large, and our house has grown too small. So, I had to make some tough choices and get rid of some books. Here are the tests I employed in deciding what to keep and what to sell. Most of these won’t apply to the majority of people, especially if you have plenty of room to store your books, but for the people like me who either have little room or expect to move in the next few years, they could prove useful.
1. The Reading Test. Basically, this comes down to “Have I read this book yet?” These books can be further subdivided into two group: “I will read this someday” and “I have no intention to read this book.” Most of the first group is books that I know will be good, but I haven’t had the time to read yet (Vanhoozer’s The Drama of Doctrine is one on my shelf). The second group includes books that people have given me, ones that I bought a long time ago when I was in a different mindset, or ones that seemed good at the time, but have never really caught my interest.
With these books, you have to be ruthless. If you have a book you have never read and you have no intentions of ever reading it, then you should probably go ahead a get rid of it. If you’re keeping a book on your shelf because it looks good and you want to seem smart, then you should probably get rid of it. On the other hand, if you have books you’ve never read but you really plan on reading them, then you should find a way to include it in your rotation. Put it next to your bed (or, as in my case, on the back of the toilet) and try to read it. Otherwise, think about when you want to read and schedule for it. (Okay, I know the idea of scheduling reading a book sounds stupid, but I think like a graduate student, not a normal person.
2. The Re-read Test. Okay, so I’ve read a book, but will I ever actually read it again? Again, these need to be subdivided: books I’ve read but didn’t do much for me; books I’ve read and we’re good, but I don’t need to read again; and books that were so bad that they cry out, begging me to get rid of them. The first and the last ones are easy to get rid of. If a book doesn’t do anything for me or if it’s horrible, then why would I want to keep it. But if a book was good, how could I get rid of it? A good example of this for me is The Raggamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning. I loved that book and took to heart a lot of the stuff in it, but once I had read it, I knew I would probably not read it again, so I got rid of it.
3. The Redundancy Test. This is something I had to deal with just the other day. I had two sets of word study books that covered the same subject and gave essentially the same answers. Both were great sets and did me a lot of good, but why did I need two sets when one would do? How many definitive biographies of John C. Fremont do I need? How many copies of The Lord of the Rings do I need? (Answer: apparently 4.) Again, this requires being ruthless, but too many books on the same subject with the same thesis just isn’t practical.
All of us have too much of something and we could do with being brutally honest with ourselves and ask the hard questions. Why do I need this? How is it improving my life? What would happen if I got rid of it? For me, these questions need to be asked about books, and I don’t always like the answer.