Inspiring Older Readers

posted on 15 May 2016

Spring Cleaning

Back in February the 'Clear Out Your Bookcase' campaign caught my eye but I was so deep in Winter gloom that I didn't really take too much notice. Now that Spring is here I've started thinking about the message of that campaign and wondering whether I should take it more seriously. My shelves are getting perilously overstocked – double lined, accommodating books that are stacked in teetering hillocks that reach to towards the ceiling. Time, I’ve been thinking, for a spring clean-out. There simply MUST be books here that I’m not going to read again, or even for the first time, and which could go in order to make space for a better choice or an edition upgrade – a thought I have pretty much every year without seeming to make an impact on the steadily growing numbers.

I find myself full of admiration for the discipline of the stoics on this matter – those brave readers who impose a strict one-in-one-out regime and actually stick to it – but I know I’m not really capable of the rigour this involves. I find myself inexplicably drawn to fistfuls of titles that I know I am unlikely to read quickly, if ever, and the indiscriminate purchase of which immediately compromises any sort of in/out policy. I am always amazed  by the way in which I can so easily convince myself as soon as I enter a bookshop that I’m interested in just about every topic under the sun .

I also have a sneaking admiration for those collectors who will only buy the best of the best. I often tell myself that this is the way forward for me – that I will have only the most beautiful and desirable books in my collection – and then I pick up a well-thumbed copy of something I think I should be interested in, with its  chipped and ragged dust jacket, and I find it’s made the journey home with me until I can replace it with something better.

Weeding out the books I no longer want isn’t entirely alien to me. I do bite the bullet on occasions and off-load quite substantial numbers – but I’ve also been known to regret disposing of something I thought I’d never read and then buying it back again only months later. The danger is that these are the mistakes you remember and so every decision to ditch a book starts to look perilous. The notion that it’s better to err on the side of caution becomes an overriding mantra that paralyses decision–making.

Lately, I’ve started to wonder whether it’s possible to create a halfway house – a sort of book limbo – that allows me to get books off the shelf without actually disposing of them. The solution? Managed storage. Load them into boxes and tuck them away in a lock-up that's snug, dry and warm where they can spend their time waiting to either be reclaimed and rehabilitated or shuffled off to some new home. But, of course, that means out of sight and out of mind and I can almost feel the recriminations and accusations emanating from the books designated for that fate. It’s a wholly logical solution to the problem but one which just doesn’t feel emotionally justified.

One thing I have noticed about spring cleaning is that about half way through it you wish you’d never started. The same applies to rationalising the books – you start to move them around, restructure the shelves, apply some logic to the randomness and suddenly all the joy drains from your body and you’re left wondering why the hell you set off down that road. After all, isn’t the randomness rather delightful? Actually, I’m glad I saved this tatty book, it’s something we should all do. I might not read that book this week or even this year but who knows, maybe I’ll find it vital before I die. You know what? I really like this clutter, this mass of books – it makes the house feel lived in, makes it cozy, makes it smart.

Why ever did I think I needed to do spring cleaning in the first place? It’s time I learned the most important lesson of all - just leave well alone and use the time for something more constructive – like reading.


Terry Potter

May 2016