Starting Fresh: Why I Got Rid of (Most of) My Books

My relationship with books, as a BA English (Literature and Language combined) student, isn’t the most healthy. For most of my life, especially academically, I’ve been told what to read by peers or tutors. Now let me just say, I have always been healthily encouraged to read- mostly by my mum who has read countless books in the past and has a TBR pile bigger than our house (this isn’t as big an exaggeration as you might think)- but for the most part the academic side of things has ruled my reading habits. Ovid’s Metamorphosis, Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, Philip Larkin’s Whitsun Weddings – these are just a few examples of the books I was expected to read in A Level and beyond. While I did enjoy some of the reading that was required, I still failed to feel fulfilled by the art of reading.

There’s also a certain expectation formed, I’ve noticed, by the stereotype of a ‘typical English Literature student’- their nose is shoved in a book 24/7, they’ve read most of if not all of the ‘classics’, they adore Shakespeare and would rather write an essay about the Canon than socialise with friends. Because of these expectations from the very nature of my course, to the plethora of aesthetically pleasing ‘shelfies’ on bookstagram I have always felt as if I have to read a certain book to present myself as the typical Literature student, or read a certain genre to match with the mainstream and quite honestly I’m bored. I’m bored of reading books because they’ll make me more knowledgeable in the field of classical literature. I’m sick of keeping hold of books I know I’ll never read again just because they look pretty on my bookcase, and I’m tired of reading books that leave me feeling dissatisfied. So I decided to clear out most of my books.

Since lockdown began, I’ve had more time to contemplate the things I own and haven’t had trouble selling a lot of things that were sitting around my room without a purpose. But the one place I did have trouble Kondo Marie-ing was my bookcase. I would start to list books on Depop and then delete the listings on the notion that ‘I might read that book again soon’, or ‘this one looks nice next to that one’. Let me tell you one piece of advice I gained recently from a video somewhere on the minimalist side of YouTube- don’t keep things if you think you’ll use it in the future. The likelihood is you won’t need it when the time comes, or you’ll simply buy a new one if it becomes a necessity.

I’ve also decided not to keep things, like books that have an intended purpose other than aesthetics, just because they are pleasing to the eye since their ‘job’ is more important to their purpose than looking nice. A book is meant to be read, it isn’t meant to sit on a shelf for years on end so I would rather sell those books to someone who will find pleasure in reading them.

From now on I’ve decided to not only read books that are required reading, and to not simply buy a book because the cover is pretty (it’s cliche but you really shouldn’t just judge a book by its cover). I’ve also realised that my ideal ‘bookish’ self doesn’t need to have a full bookcase, but instead would prefer a handful of books that bring joy and will be read again. For any books that I know I won’t read again I’ll simply sell or donate them.

Reading to me, began to feel like a chore. I felt as though I had to live up to the expectation that reading literature was my hobby or my passion because I’m a literature student, and while I do love sitting down with my nose in a book every now and then I would rather escape in a book that I truly enjoy than read a book just for the sake of it.