Downsizing the Library

Don Yerxa’s great piece on downsizing his library is up today at the Books and Culture website. He writes:

As I contemplated retirement—at least from teaching — I began to downsize my library. How many of us, I wonder, have books at home we’d be embarrassed to place on our office shelves? Would academic colleagues think less of me if they knew I read Vince Flynn and David Baldacci novels on the subway? Or if they knew I have a good number of “What If?”-type alternative historical explorations at home? How lowbrow! But I digress.

Over the years I have culled a fair number of superfluous and unwanted books from my shelves. These haven’t been terribly painful exercises. The minor losses were more than compensated for by the prospect of new, more exciting replacement volumes. This time, however, it felt very different. I wasn’t just pruning and thinning here and there. This was “biblio clear-cutting.” I committed to keep only those books that I truly cherish, really want to read, or have some prospect of using in my post-teaching career.This hurt. I said good-bye to hundreds of books. But I also found that radical downsizing of a personal library can be instructive…

I am not nearing retirement, but the thought of downsizing my library crossed my mind this weekend when my parents came to visit from New Jersey. They told us that they were coming to watch my older daughter’s piano recital and my younger daughter’s soccer game, but they also brought bags and bags of my old books with them. These are books that I have had sitting on the bookshelves at their home–my childhood home–for at least two decades. Many of them are college textbooks, theological and church history texts from my divinity school days, and other random books about sports, history, and religious studies.

Some of these books include:

Terry Pluto: Loose Balls: The Short, Wild Life of the American Basketball Association
Philp Schaff, History of the ChristianChurch (5 vols.)
Paul S. Karleen, The Handbook to Bible Study
Barry Williams, Growing Up Brady: I Was a Teenage Greg
William Cook, The Medieval World View
Earle Cairns, God and Man in Time: A Christian Approach to Historiography
Mary Stewart, Thunder on the Right
John Feinstien, A Season on the Brink
Good News for Modern Man
Hal Lindsey, The Late, Great Planet Earth
Dave Anderson, Great Quarterbacks of the NFL
Carl Zuckmayer, A Late Friendship, The Letters of Karl Barth and Carl Zuckmayer
Warren Wiersbe, Be Dynamic
William Shedd, Dogmatic Theology
Os Guiness, The Dust of Death
Owen Chadwick, The Reformation
Walter Laquer, Europe Since Hitler
Gary Carter, A Dream Season (’86 Mets)

I know what your thinking: This is an unusual mix of books. But what do I do with them? Do I sell them on-line? Do I integrate them into my existing library? Do I build more bookshelves? Do I keep them as a means of reflecting on the intellectual journey of my life?

Any advice would be appreciated!

One thought on “Downsizing the Library

  1. John, Belatedly, I say give them away. True confessions are in order, however, I have not succeeded in creating equilibirum in my library. Since my downsizing, more books have come in than go out. That is to be expected given my editorial responsibilities, but it points out the need to view downsizing as a dynamic process: punctuated equilibrium anyone? — Don Yerxa


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