Victory over book chaos

I have designated this week as the Book Culling Week. The urge to get rid of some of my personal ‘stock’ was prompted by rampant growth of precarious stalagmites of ARCs and galleys on the floor of my apartment. Here are my Rules of Culling that some of you might want to adapt for your particular purposes (be honest, you’re not reading this because you have too few books):

  1. I start a culling box. The box confines the rejects and prevents them from accidentally sneaking their way back into the regular book collection.
  2. The culling process takes into account the amount of time a book has been sitting on my shelf/floor and how inclined I am to read it upon its discovery. If there exists even a remote hypothetical possibility of me still reading the book, it stays (most likely till the next deaccession time).
  3. I start with the most neglected ARC stack on my floor. Usually it’s the one that I have not looked at in weeks and that contains titles I didn’t even know existed. Some of those ARCs were picked up on impulse, and now they either go into the rejection box or migrate to a more active to-read pile by my bed.
  4. Once that stack is conquered, I proceed to look at other stacks on the floor, if such exist (we haven’t even gotten to any shelving units yet). Repeat until the non-rejects are consolidated into fewer collective entities. If you are doing this, feel free to organize these according to some mysterious, known-only-to-you criteria of future readability.
  5. Now the hard work begins: the culling of the permanent collection. In my house, non-fiction has a much higher chance of being eliminated. I almost never reread non-fiction, so it ends up primarily serving as a showcase of my quirky and varied interests. Which is perfectly fine, but it gets tiresome after years of dusting around yet another 4 inch-thick Stalin biography.
  6. Fiction largely stays in place, except for books I have read and will definitely never read again, or fiction I picked up for some reason that no longer make sense and will never be read, period.

At one point I had this urge to only keep poetry and graphic novels. While I never reached this extreme, these days I mostly keep both of those plus the majority of my fiction and some non-fiction (primarily queer stuff, history I particularly like, essays, mythology, and religion).

What do I do with my box of rejects? Most of it ends up back in the break room at work (then I have to make sure I don’t accidentally bring back my own stuff in a few days). Some of it goes into little free libraries in the neighborhood, or to public libraries if they accept donations. There is also a bookshelf in our living room that is designated as a ‘non-lending library’ for visitors (i.e. take a book, don’t bring it back).

This week so far yielded about 25 rejects. This seems pretty good, except I will probably bring this many books home in the next week. But remember: Getting rid of even a few books is seen as victory over chaos.


  1. To channel the spirit of Ambrose Bierce, “Book culling is a brief period of weeding between two periods of acquisition.”

    I’ve noticed readers tend to create rules for themselves, regarding both how they read and how they dispose of books.

  2. I really need to do this. The book towers are sprouting around the house like mushrooms after a rainstorm. The idea of getting rid of books still hurts though, even if they’re books I have no interest in or will never read again. My inner hoarder pushing back, I think!

    1. I was very attached to my books, and then I became a bookseller… I would have to build my furniture out of books if I didn’t get rid of some of them from time to time.
      I view this process as sharing.

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