A weekend with a purpose

This weekend was a weekend with a purpose. A single-minded purpose to do some much-needed pruning. No, not pruning of trees or bushes or shrubs, but of my book collection, which had grown, multiplied and reached unmanageable levels at home.

Yes, I am talking about space constraints which was threatening domestic peace. A week ago, my mother nearly had a fit when she found 3 of my books inside the pressure cooker she uses when we have more than 10 people over for a meal. When I told her that she had not used that cooker for more than 6 months and would probably not use them for another 6, she was not amused. When I persisted by saying that I was only making good use of available space like a true Mumbaikar, she mumbled something about encroachment and territorial rights. Mothers !

But I knew that she was right. A pressure cooker is nearly always meant for cooking (though I do remember the pressure cooker in question being used for storing water, when we faced severe water shortage a few years back) and is certainly not the place for keeping books. And my books were all over the place at home (in addition to being in book shelves meant for them)—they shared space with sheets and the pillow covers, my dupattas and shalwars, my CDs and my tanpura, and of course my mother’s pots and pans.

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The easiest thing for me would have been to get additional shelves made, but I knew that this was not the solution. The solution lay in pruning my book collection—not an easy decision at all as I am attached to all my books and it would be difficult to decide which books to keep and which ones to discard/give away/sell.

After thinking about it for some time, I came up with a 5 point criteria that I hoped would help me separate the books I wanted to keep and the books I could to say goodbye to.

  • Books that I had bought with high hopes after reading a review or after seeing the title, but which did not live up to those high hopes. For example, Ashwin Sanghi‘s Chanakya’s Chant, which I bought in spite of its horrid and unreadable cover. The dual plot of the book, the logic of which I never managed to figure out, left me irritated. Alex Rutherford’s “Empire of the Moghal” series is another one that flattered to deceive. The book on Babur was fairly good, but the next 2 books on Humayun and Akbar were terrible. I fell asleep reading the former and struggled to finish the latter.
  • Books that were interesting when I first read them, but no longer appealed to me now. For example, I had enjoyed the supernatural angle of John Connolly’s books featuring Charlie Parker (Every Dead Thing, Dark Hollow and the Nocturnes), but they did not appeal any more. Another set of books that I have outgrown are Ashok Banker‘s retelling of the Ramayana. Once upon a time, I had liked the retelling and would eagerly wait for each book in the 6 part series to release. But, when I was skimming through the pages of the books recently, I wondered what was it that had captured my attention in the first place. (I believe that the 7th book in the series has just been released, and no, I am not going to buy it or read it).
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  • Books which appealed to me as a child, but no longer appeal to me as an adult. For example, The Swiss Family Robinson by Johann Wyss was a childhood favourite and I owned an abridged version. Sometime back, I came across an unabridged version of this book in a second-hand store, which I purchased. Reading this version drove away all the childhood memories of the book. I found it to be quite violent; this had been purged from the abridged version I had read, enjoyed and loved as a child.
  • Books I had purchased just to complete a series. For example, I loved Anne of Green Gables. And therefore, I just had to buy the other 6 books in the series. Though they were good, they justified only a one time read, which I had already done.
  • Books I had received as gifts, but were not the kind of books that I read. For example, The Celestine Prophecy by James Redfield. Gifted to me by a cousin, reading the book promised me inner peace, the heaven, earth and many more things. I could never achieve any of these as I barely got past the first chapter.
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So after breakfast on Saturday morning I started the pruning, which lasted through the day and by evening. I had about 43 books in my “goodbye” pile, all of which met at least one the afore-mentioned 5-point criteria for pruning. The next step was to actually say goodbye to them. I had identified a second-hand bookseller near my place who was willing to take them. So earlier today, I carted the books to this shop and bid adieu to them. To be honest, though it was painful, it was not as bad as I thought it would be. Hopefully, these books will find homes with people who will like them and appreciate them.

Back home, I surveyed the side-effects of the pruning. Some clever reorganisation of the books had led to all them being only where they were supposed to be—in the book shelves. Also, the pruning had thrown up a lot of books that I hadn’t read in a long time and I needed to get re-acquainted with soon. 🙂

Though the pruning has been a fruitful exercise, I wonder if I could have gone about the whole thing differently. Dear reader, have you done something like this? If yes, I would love to know more about how you did it.

17 thoughts on “A weekend with a purpose

  1. ROFTL.. books in the pressure cooker?? Only a true blue Mumbaikar would think of that. But really pruning your book collection is the toughest job on earth. I’m a bit like Shylock when it comes to my books…can’t bear to give away any and I always remember people who’ve borrowed books from me and never returned them. I even had my Cinderella and Snow White books which I have now passed onto my kids. Kudos for taking on this huge task.

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    1. I know books in the pressure cooker sounds a bit too much. But its true, just ask my mother. But yes, it was a difficult task and one that I am glad I initiated. There is a long way to go as I feel that there are many more books to go, and of course many more books to buy. 🙂

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  2. books in the pressure cooker?? never even thought of that!!! we have a similar space problem for books, so i hardly buy any…. am a member of so many libraries. each catering to different kinds of books… over the years, i have got used to a system where i read books from the library, and buy books only when i am sure i really want to own them!

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  3. Interesting…I have recently done the same. The choice was tough, as my books are all on art and photography. Rather than following a criteria, I just gave them to students who would benefit from them. Also, in the line are some paintings which have to be given away and then there more…I read this blog called http://www.getclutterfree.wordpress.com, and trying to live a simplistic life!

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    1. A clutter free life is an unattainable dream at the moment, though I am trying. And like you, books are only the first step, no second step. Clothes were the first step that I took. I have some paintings and curios that I have collected from all over and which need to find other homes. Maybe I will undertake this exercise before Diwali. And thank you for the link. 🙂

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  4. Every 5-6 years I also used to take lot of books to the local library and gift it to them. Last time I did it, I promised myself, I was not going to buy any more books in Italy, but only to read them from library. I am quite ok now in terms of space, though I keep buying new books from different countries that I visit, especially from India.

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    1. This is only the second time that I have given away books and am still learning. But yes, the next time books get cleared, they go to a library. And yes, I will continue to buy books. In fact, I just purchased Stieg Larssen’s The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo a couple of hours back 🙂

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  5. Giving away books!!! That must have been heartbreaking!! i dont imagine myself giving away even the most bakwaas of the books (eg Anything by Arundhati Roy) …but pressure cooker!! that was howlarious!!!!

    Why dont you freecycle your books?

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    1. Well, the pressure cooker was empty, I was desperate and a good Mumbaikar uses every inch of available space 😉 But seriously, I had to clear out some books, domestic peace or no domestic peace. Thank you for the freecycle suggestion, I must admit that I knew nothing about it. Just found out more about freecycle and signed up a few minutes back. Thank you for the suggestion.

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  6. pressure cooker?? i don’t know whether i’m amused or outraged!! 😛

    when i graduated from university, and had to move back home another continent away, leaving my books was the most heartbreaking thing (couldn’t take them with me due to luggage issues, as well as not having space at home where i would share a room with a sibling..). that experience cured me of buying too many books! especially considering the amazing public library system in hong kong, as well as a wonderful second hand book store near my home, where i could return/exchange books once i was done. since then i only buy books that i REALLY want, forever.

    i really miss libraries here in mumbai. the fountain booksellers are awesome, but they don’t have everything that i want.. i hate reading what is available rather than what i actually want to read! are there libraries here with a good collection of literary fiction (david mitchell, haruki murakami, nicole mones, lisa see, sarah waters, linda grant) that i’m not aware of??

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    1. You can take your pick between amused or outraged. I was just being practical. 😛

      I have never really had much of a space problem, as I would buy my books with care. But over the years, while my book collection grew, the space required remained the same. Good libraries are an issue in Mumbai and I have yet to come across one that is satisfactory, which is one of the reasons why I am forced to buy books. I have come across second hand stores where one can return/exchange books once done. In fact, I gave pruned books to one such shop. But the selection leaves much to be desired. I have come to the conclusion that Mumbai bookshops leave much to be desired, as they cater only to a certain kind of clientele.

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  7. Oh I am sure a pressure cooker can have multiple uses Sudha. 😀
    By the by, I loved Chanakya’s Chant. I have to agree about the unreadable cover and the dual plot (with so many characters) did get mish-mashed at times but on the whole I had a good time.
    I loved the pruning. I did it too recently and apart from the exhaustion, had a whale of time. It really helps to de-clutter. A lovely read this was Sudha!

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