I don’t really believe in unwanted books. Instead, they simply need a new home.
When John and I moved in together, we had far too many books. We’d both been keen readers from when we were kids at school. We’d both hoarded books. We had books that had once belonged to other people.
There were no unwanted books on our shelves. They were all precious. Neither of us wanted to part with any of them.
We owned poetry, classics, best-sellers and ‘airport’ books. We had Miles Franklin Award and Man Booker Prize-listed books. Some of them reflected different phases of our lives. There were texts we’d used during completed and aborted university courses. We both had sociology and anthropology texts and books about Aboriginal health, education and culture. There were cooking, gardening and art-and-craft manuals. John had mysteries and sea- and spy-stories.
John suggested we should sort them anyway.
‘We might find one or two we don’t really need,’ he said.
I knew from experience that within a month of throwing out any book I would need it. It wouldn’t matter who wrote it or what the subject was, I would need it desperately. But I agreed to the plan.
On the whole, culling the books worked well. We were surprised how many duplicates we had. There were some we knew were out of date.
We contacted a second-hand book dealer. He arrived, probably hoping to discover valuable first editions and antique tomes. He rummaged through the overflow on the dining room table and in the boxes on the floor. He picked up and discarded many more books than he eventually bought. The amount he paid was ridiculous. We gave about a third of the unwanted books to a charity that was holding a sale of used books to raise funds. Then they said they had enough.
‘So many books,’ John said, standing in the middle of a room surrounded by boxes of books and more piled on the table.
‘What are we going to do with them? No one seems to want old books any more,’ I said.
‘Why don’t we put them back into book-cases? We have enough of those. We can worry about them some other time.’
Our history, fiction, art, science, travel, foreign language and poetry books would all sit, jumbled together on the shelves for years.
A few years later, we found a creative way to free ourselves of unwanted books. Each morning, we simply placed three or four at a time in neat piles on the seats of covered bus stops near our house.
I like the idea of strangers coming across an unexpected pile of books at a bus stop. It became a kind of game for us, to watch the books disappear.
‘I noticed this morning the gardening books have gone from the bus shelter on the corner of the street,’ one of us would say, or
‘That shelter near the shops is good for getting rid of literary fiction. We should put some more there.’
Our only disappointment was that absolutely no one was interested in an old copy of the life of Mother Mary MacKillop.
That was nearly eight years ago. It is time to make some space on our bookshelves. Over the weekend I tested whether unwanted books would still be taken from bus stops. I left a pile of them tucked in a corner of a shelter near home. When I went back, our unwanted books had gone.
What do you do with books you don’t have room for? Please leave a comment.