Do you have a large book collection? If so, how do you make room for new books? Do you give them to charity? Keep them? Or pass them onto a friend? Whether your book addiction has reached new highs or if you’re happy living in your house of books, AKINA HANSEN shares some ideas about what you can do with your old books.
I grew up in a home where books of every colour, shape and age lined our shelves. So, naturally, at a young age I developed a love of reading and began amassing my own collection of books. It began with Roald Dahl whose novels I greedily devoured and which to this day line my bookshelf. Then came ‘Harry Potter’, ‘A Series of Unfortunate Events’, and ‘Grimm’s Fairy Tales’. As I reached adolescence, I developed a particular affinity for classics. This started when I borrowed a Jane Austen novel from my dad’s library and fell in love with her strong and resilient female characters. Emily Brontë soon followed. Then came contemporary fiction with Haruki Murakami leading the way. And so on and so forth.
If you’re like me and you love books, you’ve probably also amassed a large collection that consists of new books, books that have been passed on from parent to child, borrowed books, and books that have been gifted from friends, lovers or family on birthdays or special occasions.
As I stare at my desk I can see books of pink, red, orange and purple stacked like jagged towers. Notably, I’m yet to read some of these books. Do I plan to? Absolutely. But alas, like many a devoted book lover, I have my ‘to read’ pile, which steadily grows due to an endless battle with buying and receiving books.
So at what point do you make the decision to give away or remove books from your collection so that you can make space for new ones?
The Japanese have a phrase for this called Tsundoku which dates from the Meiji period and refers to the practice of acquiring books and letting them pile up unread. Importantly, the word doesn’t carry any negative connotations and is akin to bibliophile. While I’ll admit that I have on occasion dabbled in Tsundoku, it’s not from a lack of love for books or reading, and it most certainly isn’t a reflection on the book itself, but rather from over eagerness.
While a few of these books are left unread, others half read and several read only once – there are some that I have reread and will most definitely come back to again, and again and again.
So at what point do you make the decision to give away or remove books from your collection so that you can make space for new ones? Like most people, I share the same apprehension that comes with disposing of old books. Understandably, books hold sentimental value so they can be difficult to let go of. Or perhaps you’re just not really sure where the best place is to take them and you don’t want to see them go to waste? Whatever the reason for holding on to your expanding book collection – I think we can all agree that sharing beloved books and giving them new homes where they’ll be appreciated is a wonderful thing.
If you’re reading this and looking at your own looming stack of books and thinking now might be the time to declutter, then read on for some ideas on where and who to donate your books to.
Depending on how sentimental you are about certain books, you can start by giving them to people you know. Regifting your books is a way that you can know with certainty that they are going to a good home. Think Christmases, birthdays, graduations, or just because – in an age of excess, don’t be afraid to give a second-hand gift, particularly when the most memorable presents are ones that are meaningful.
Alternatively, if you have kids or have a friend or relative with children you can look to donate books to their classes or childcare centres. Teachers often purchase books out of pocket, so it’s worth liaising with them to see if any of yours are wanted.
If your books are in quality condition perhaps you can try selling them. Possible places where you may have success is at your local markets, a school or church fete or Berkelouw (a firm that specialises in buying and selling books). There’s also the option of selling books online – such as through Facebook marketplace, Amazon or eBay.
Charities such as Vinnies accept books in good condition as well – so bring in any fiction, non-fiction or children’s books you’re looking to give away to your local store.
Lifeline is also a great charity option. They are a 24-hour crisis support and suicide prevention service that accept pre-loved books, with drop off points across Australia. Their branches in Brisbane, Canberra and the Northern Beaches hold book fairs throughout the year that are vital to ensuring the organisation continues to provide the necessary support to vulnerable individuals. Community members are encouraged to donate books – so call up your local branch for further information.
I personally love the idea of donating books either to an already established street library or starting your own. You’ve possibly already come across one in your local area – as they’re typically situated in front yards and are accessible from the street. They are usually small cabinet-like structures that are brightly decorated and filled with books. The Little Library movement was founded in the US by Todd Bol who installed a library inside a miniature model of a schoolhouse on his front lawn in Wisconsin. It’s now become a global phenomenon with many local communities across the world setting up street libraries to encourage and nurture reading.
Here in Sydney, Newtown resident Nic Loew set up the Street Library Australia organisation to help create an online network so that communities can set up their own pop-up exchanges and to enable people to locate street libraries. The beauty of the Street Library is that it’s founded on trust and encompasses a united mission to share beloved stories and create a stronger sense of community. If you happen to walk past one, you can simply borrow a book and return it, or you can exchange a book as well. So if you’re thinking of donating any books from your collection, find a local street library online and drop them off.
But what about books you aren’t particularly sentimental about? Those books that didn’t really leave you feeling satisfied, or where the protagonist acts completely out of character to help move the plot along, or maybe you just didn’t enjoy the book because of the genre?
Well, if you’re a creative person and like the idea of DIY arts and craft projects perhaps you might like the idea of upcycling old books. This suggestion might sound outrageous to some – as books are viewed as sacred to many – but there’s something to be said about using book pages, covers and spines to create something unique (especially if you’re not particularly fond of the book).
Old book spines can be turned into bookmarks, the skeleton of a book can be turned into a makeshift trinket box, and book pages can be used as canvases for drawing, painting and sketching, as well as being turned into paper lanterns and lampshades. If you’re interested in finding further inspiration for at home projects, a quick google search will guide you along.
If you’re feeling particularly adventurous see artist Jim Rosenau and his works. He lives in the US and, since 2002, he’s been making and selling thematic furniture from vintage books. He uses large old books and reclaimed wood to create furniture such as shelves, coffee tables and home furnishings. How about a shelf for the kitchen made of cookbooks? Check out thisintothat.com. You just might be inspired.
Of course, if none of these options seem viable to you – there is the other possibility of just transitioning to eBooks and avoiding the entire problem of an overburdened bookshelf. But if you’re like me, this won’t be happening any time soon. I love the durability of my paperback in any travel situation – from my train ride to work, to an afternoon on the beach. Being able to fold down the corner of a page to mark where I am in my book (this may be blasphemous to some) is also a huge bonus. Plus, the feel, smell, and general wear and tear of a book that reminds you of its significance. And finally (and perhaps most importantly) the overall ritual and joy of gifting and receiving a physical book is unparalleled.
So, if you share the same preference of paperbacks and your collection is verging on unmanageable, perhaps one of these options will help you make room for that book you’ve been eyeing. Or maybe you’re content with your mini library and you welcome the idea of a home lined with endless bookshelves?