Why is it so difficult to get rid of books? The logic of the situation is easy. There is simply no reason to hang on to a book that is:

  • falling apart because of the acidity of the paper
  • hasn’t been read for twenty years
  • is a classic which can be borrowed from the library or picked up second hand for less than a pound

BooksMy rules of thumb for keeping books are similarly unambiguous:

  • personal favourites that I really do reread
  • multi-volume series which I reread from time to time (even if these are available from the library, it’s difficult in practice to borrow an entire series)
  • books that would be difficult to replace
  • books that are beautiful things
  • practical books which are in active use

Part of the problem is that books, more than anything else (except, perhaps, photos), have the power to evoke memories*.

Sometimes it’s to do with the book itself: the knowledge or insight gained or the sheer pleasure of reading it (or both). Books that were gifts are a reminder of the giver and perhaps the occasion. Some seem to have the power to fix a particular memory: I can still remember buying “Brighter Than a Thousand Suns” in Birmingham whilst waiting for a connection to Leeds for an interview at the Polytechnic in my second year of 6th form.

But why is it so difficult to get rid of a yellowing copy of “The History of Henry Esmond” that I bought at least twenty years ago for 32p and am very unlikely to reread? I can only think that it has become part of my personal environment: something that has travelled with me from one house to the next – something unchanging in a changing world.

*(I appreciate that, for some people, music might perform a similar function, but I don’t really do music – I would be no good on a desert island)