How long do you keep unread books on the shelf?

May 7, 2014 at 12:00 am 19 comments

20140503_124540It’s a question that has been increasingly on my mind as my book collection expands and extra shelf space becomes nonexistent: how long should you keep unread books on the shelf?

As I looked over my books, my eye glancingly paused on each title that I bought with such good intentions over the last few years, but never read. Lady Audley’s Secret, A Strange Manuscript Found in a Copper Cylinder, Summer Tree, No Fond Return of Love, The Raphael Affair…the list goes on. And, as I looked at these fine specimens, I wondered why I was keeping them and if good intentions should have an expiration date.

So, with my impending move making the decision to keep or donate certain books more pressing, I decided to go on a spree. I would read as many of these good intentions books as possible before leaving New York and finally know if I loved them and needed them in my collection or if they were destined for the book donation bin at the nearest NYPL branch.

I’ll be updating this post over the next two weeks with the results of my reading frenzy, but for now, tell me: how long do you keep unread books? Are they lifers or do you boot them after a certain amount of time?


Entry filed under: Musings and Essays. Tags: , , .

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19 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Madame Vauquer  |  May 7, 2014 at 12:35 am

    For me, moving has always been the key and it sounds like it might also be the key for you. When I moved several states away after over twenty years in the same house, I must have donated, given away or left behind well over one thousand books. Firmly I told myself that if I hadn’t read the book in twenty years, what made me think I would read it the next month. Of the unread books, anything I’d had over three or four years without reading had to bite the dust.

    • 2. Corey  |  May 7, 2014 at 8:39 am

      Moving does throw things into rather stark perspective, doesn’t it! Any regrets over the 1,000 books you left behind?

      • 3. Madame Vauquer  |  May 7, 2014 at 3:22 pm

        A couple of regrets, yes, but they didn’t last long. Oddly, one of the books I had decided I would never read was voted in as a group read a mere two months after the move. I had to purchase another copy, lol.

        • 4. Corey  |  May 8, 2014 at 10:29 am

          Haha, oh no! I feel like that sort of thing is always happening to me, which might be way I’m so reluctant to get rid of anything!

        • 5. Madame Vauquer  |  May 8, 2014 at 2:52 pm

          Yes, we bibliomaniacs walk a fine line.

  • 6. Kate  |  May 7, 2014 at 1:10 pm

    It sort of depends on the book! I have some that I keep for sentimental reasons that I’ve never read, and some that I ditch after two weeks. Normally, though, they kind of stay until I move :)

    • 7. Corey  |  May 8, 2014 at 10:29 am

      Aww, what are some of the sentimental never-reads?

      • 8. Kate  |  May 9, 2014 at 9:03 pm

        My grandpa’s copy of Ben Franklin’s autobiography was the one I was thinking of :)

  • 9. thebookpub  |  May 10, 2014 at 2:21 am

    I came across this post at just the right time! I just started giving my bookshelves a thorough clean today and finally got rid of some of the books I’ve had upwards of 5-10 years because I know I’m just never going to get around them. I have a really bad habit of keeping unread books forever because I never know just when I’m going to be in the mood to read them and I don’t want to donate one just to have a hankering to read it in a week. (There’s some justification, lol.)
    It probably doesn’t help that I’ve lived in the same house my entire life so I’ve never had to move my book collection. XD

    • 10. Corey  |  May 11, 2014 at 7:15 pm

      Wow! Everytime I move I wish that I just lived in the same house my entire life! Then I could just luxuriously huddle in my increasingly unmanageable collection of books in total happiness. :)

      Anyway, congrats on braving a cull regardless!

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  • 17. Iris  |  June 1, 2014 at 12:28 pm

    I’m in the middle of a move and had the same objectives you had a few months ago. Then I got lost in reading the books that appealed to me at that very moment instead.. I’m sorry I cannot offer you any particular strategies. I seem to constantly fail at culling books (though I did in the end get rid of about 150 (about half of them unread?), but that says more about the amount of books still on my shelves I fear..)

  • […] so I thought it would always be. Imagine my surprise this spring when I challenged myself to work through my “to be read” shelf before moving and—lo and behold!—it actually worked! Suddenly that hour and a half for reading, and […]

  • 19. A Spring Reading Spree | Literary Transgressions  |  May 5, 2016 at 6:35 am

    […] few years ago about this time, I went on a spring reading spree to cull the many books I had on my shelves that I had never read. […]


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