Which books should I keep?

Posted February 10, 2019 by Lory in discussions / 44 Comments



As I mentioned recently on my other blog, Entering the Enchanted Castle, I’m going through a big transition in my life. My husband got a job in Switzerland and has just moved there to start working, while I plan to follow with our son when the school year ends.

It’s been six years since our last move and I well remember what an ordeal that was. Now, I’m facing doing all that packing up, clearing out and hefting stuff again, this time overseas. I’m tempted to get rid of as much as possible and keep only the truly essential — but what is that? Particularly when it comes to books, it’s hard for me to know what I will need or want in the future.

It won’t be so easy for me to find English-language reading material, so I definitely want to bring along some to sustain me. Compact and multi-volume collections get the most words into the least amount of space, like my Library of America editions of Willa Cather, Ursula K. Le Guin, John Steinbeck, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Thornton Wilder. I could happily read from those for some time. The Complete Earthsea and Robertson Davies’s three-volume trilogies (the Deptford, Salterton and Cornish trilogies) will definitely come along too.

Another consideration: in the last few years I have overcome my resistance to e-books and it can’t be denied they are incredibly convenient for traveling. I hate spending money on them, but I’m tempted to buy some of the Delphi Classics collections to have a large, inexpensive supply of classic literature, which is always worth reading. And I wonder if I can get a library membership or e-book subscription that will keep me connected to a good assortment of books. (I know there’s Kindle Unlimited, but I am resisting the Amazon behemoth as much as possible.)

I’ve spent a lot of time and money building up hardcover collections of my favorite authors, but now when I look at them I just think how bulky and heavy they are. Will I really read them again? Will the joy of possessing them outweigh the hassle of moving them? Wouldn’t e-books from the library be easier?

Then there are books that are not just for reading, but for helping me make and do things: cookbooks, knitting books, travel books and so forth. The internet has made finding this kind of instruction much easier, so although I still love paging through these books, I don’t use them as often as I once did. Which of these are truly essential? What information do I really need on paper, and what can I trust to be kept in my head, or in some more lightweight form?

It all makes for some hard decisions, but I hope I’ll come to a solution I can live with. Have you ever had to move your books and decide what to keep? How did you make those decisions?

Linked in the Book Blog Discussion Challenge hosted by Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction and Shannon @ It Starts at Midnight!

Tags: ,


44 responses to “Which books should I keep?

  1. Books you still feel a genuine joy of possessing I would suggest keeping, even if they are in an inconvenient format and a hassle to move. Feeling at home in a new country is though and, at least to me, few things feels more like home than being surrounded by beloved books. Of course there may be some practical limitations but I would argue for some leniency for the books you truly care about.

    For the books you feel more neutral about you can be much more ruthless, especially if you can access them in a more convenient format. The added advantage is of course that the bookshelves you eventually end up with will have a high concentration of books you love which is always nice.

    Of course you may have less interest in books as physical object than I do, but I recommend at least considering that you don’t only need reading material, you also need to feel at home.

    • Just for reference I should add that after culling I moved about three crammed full-size book shelves in my latest international move, which was a hassle but manageable and in the end worth it. I suspect that your starting collection is larger than mine was so though, so your culling may have to be more aggressive.

    • You’re right, it’s important to feel at home and being surrounded by my most beloved books will help, even if it’s a hassle to move them. It’s not just about the reading content — having them on my e-reader will not have the same effect.

      • A good thing with Switzerland is how easy it is to get somewhere else. Even with train you can be in London in 8-9h and spend some of the money you saved by not moving your entire library. https://www.orellfuessli.ch/shop/home/show/ also seems to have a rather good selection of English books (never tried it). So I don’t think you have to worry too much about being able to find new good books to read, I would prioritize bringing the books you really love instead.

        • I’m definitely looking forward to having access to a really good train system. And I’m sure I’ll be able to find English books – for a price. It’s the free access through the library I will miss. However, I will find a way!

  2. Oh goodness Lory, difficult decisions! And I, an inveterate hoarder, have no useful advice to give you, despite moving house many times. Like ireadthatinabook I feel that my books make my home and I like to look at them.

    I don’t know if this helps or hinders, but there is a UK online bookshop called the Wordery which delivers books free to European countries (at least, for now, who knows after Brexit?), accepts various different currencies, credit cards and PayPal and is not affiliated in any way with Amazon. It doesn’t have quite the range of the big beast, especially regarding US books, but as far as I know it pays taxes and fair wages… I use them a lot and have always found them to be good. So, you know, there’s that.

    Good luck!

    • Thanks, I knew of the Wordery but not the details. I am sure I will be using it! In general I try not to buy many books at full price … I will miss the used bookstores here, of which there are many fantastic ones.

      • Yes, I miss second-hand bookshops too. Also the library, I do end up buying more than I would otherwise. (There is an English-language section to my library but it is understandably small.) But perhaps you’ll discover something in Switzerland, you never know! I think if I lived in Antwerp or Brussels there would be more possibilities, so you might be luckier. Or you might just get so good at German you don’t read English any more…

        • Well, that would certainly be a sensible, and hopefully economical option. I would like to be able to read for pleasure in German, and French too. I will work on it.

  3. What a hard decision. I agree with previous comments that say your books will make you feel more at home but obviously you can’t take them all. Is there any way to store the ones you are unsure about and then have them sent on if you decide you want them? Maybe leave the books with friends or family so you aren’t paying storage costs. Maybe that isn’t helpful but getting rid of books sounds painful!

    • Another factor is that I really prefer for books to be read and made useful even not by me personally. So I would give books to friends and family if I thought they could benefit more from them than I — especially children’s books my son has grown up or I don’t think will ever read. I’d rather pass them on to my nieces and nephews than hang onto them.

  4. Jerri

    If you have a cooperative public library, it is perfectly possible to “check out” eBooks and even downloadable audiobooks from a US public library when you are physically out of the country. Our library does this for people who are traveling a lot, etc.

    • I hope I will be able to do that, at least for a while. Unfortunately the NH Overdrive e-book selection is terrible (they have one collection for the whole state!). It never has the books I want and there’s no way to request any additions. I found there are some other public libraries one can join as a non-resident and I’m looking into that. Not sure if international non-residency works though.

      • Jerri

        Have you found any libraries that offer “Hoopla”? I have no idea if the books offered are standard for all subscribing libraries or what, but I have found that their selections have very few overlaps with the Arkansas Overdrive selections (although with Overdrive in our cooperative libraries, one can submit suggestions and I have had good luck with my suggestions being accepted.) One has to have a tablet or smart phone that you can load the “Hoopla” app, which includes at least the past couple of generations of Kindle Fire, as well as Android and “i” products. I don’t think it runs on standard eInk dedicated eReaders.

        For our often out of country patrons, a few email us when their annual “address check” is due and we update their record so they can continue to access eBooks.

        • I haven’t come across Hoopla – I prefer reading on the e-reader vs. other devices, but it’s nice to have options.

  5. Lizzie Ross

    When I moved to the UK for a year, I took only cookbooks with me — but I knew in advance it would be for only a year, and I would be near a good friend with a pretty good-sized bookcase, and that the public library would have English books aplenty. It was there that I discovered *Diary of a Nobody* and *The Darling Buds of May*.

    I doubt you’ll be so lucky in Switzerland, so I can only suggest you load up your e-reader (I agree w/ you about not handing over more $ to Amazon, but they have hundreds of free books available). I’m reading at least one book per week on my phone, which I thought I’d never do, but making this concession gives me libe and kindle books to read at any time, wherever I am, all for free.

  6. I haven’t had to move for three decades, so I have no experience. I would urge you to take your favorite authors, hardback or not. And I’d get rid of any kind of instruction books, cookbooks, knitting books, especially travel books which go out of date so quickly. If you have a sentimental attachment to a cookbook then keep that one, but it’s so easy to look up recipes that we don’t need to lug around books for that anymore.

    • With those kinds of books I generally find there are only a few patterns or recipes that I actually use. Not worth lugging the whole thing for that.

  7. I don’t know where you n Switzerland you’ll be based but if it’s in one of the big cities or in striking distance of one then you might be pleasantly surprised at what’s available in English. Switzerland is a very culturally diverse country and there will be an expat community.

  8. I think this might be the hardest question about moving to another country! You have to take some — as above, you need a sense of home. Ohhhh, this is a tough one.

  9. I do hope that once in the middle of doing this, it comes to you and you have a good time and a time to reflect while choosing and disposing of your friends, 😉

  10. Oh what a wrench! We have been solid converts to ebooks several years and now only buy print copies of books we especially love – well, Himself does. I most don’t unless I have been given a book token… Good luck with the windowing…

  11. Oh dear, I don’t know how I would choose my books if I were to move overseas. I think I would just store most of them at my parents’. I did spend one year in Japan and I brought maybe seven or eight favourites that I know I enjoy reading. (I was a little distraught when I had to leave my hardcover of The Lord of the Rings because my carry-on was too heavy, but reading the ebook turned out to be not so bad.) But all the other books just stayed at home, where I knew I would return to them. I suppose my strategy would be to bring as many reliable rereads as I could fit.

    • For plain reading start to finish, e-books are mostly fine. I find them frustrating if I want to do any cross-referencing or looking back for something – I need visual/spatial memory for that. I would rather not deal with storage, but it might be necessary.

  12. I can’t help much with the decisionmaking. I haven’t moved in 25 years, so as you can imagine, the books have proliferated madly. I need to prune them, and I am dreading it!

    Book Depository delivers to a lot of countries, including Switzerland, so if you find you made a mistake getting rid of something you need or want, and it’s still in print, you should be able to get a replacement. I’ve also asked a college acquaintance who currently lives in Switzerland if she has any bookstore recommendations. I’ll let you know what she says.

      • She lives east of Zurich. Here’s what she says: “In Zurich Orell Füssli has a English book section, there is a place called Pile of Books, in Basel there is Bider & Tanner. In general, every book shop will order books in English. And every larger chain should have a dedicated English section.” I hope that’s helpful!

  13. Oh goodness, you are describing my worst nightmare! I don’t think I’ll ever be able to move ever again, because I truly suck at purging books but I have so many that it would make moving basically impossible 😂 re: the cooking/knitting/travel books, do you have the option of scanning the recipes and pages you refer back to often, and saving them that way? I know it doesn’t give the same “feel” of paging through the books themselves, but it is a space saver. I’d also highly recommend hitting up family and friends, seeing if there are any books from your collection that they’d be willing to give a new home – that way, the books aren’t really “gone”, they’re still within reach (in relative terms, but still). ❤️

    • Yes, I should make my own personal pattern/recipe book – it takes time though! That’s why it’s just easier to carry along a book someone else has made.

      I would like to give some of my books to worthy recipients. I’d like to think someone is going to read them, even if I can’t.

  14. What an exciting journey you’re embarking on! I have to be honest, when I moved abroad this was a terrible part of the packing process. It did introduce ebooks in my life and actually that turned out to be wonderful, so at least you’re already on board there! Something that helped me in deciding was considering which favorites I paged through most often within the previous year or so. But also it didn’t much matter, I wanted whatever I didn’t have with me. If you store them you can change them out when you come back to visit.

    It’s definitely tougher to find decent-priced English books abroad, but not so bad. The local libraries may surprise you with what they have (although in Germany and Austria, at least, you have to pay an annual library fee, not sure if it’s the same in Switzerland. If that’s the case then make sure you go and check out what’s actually in their English section before joining to make sure paying is worth it for you.) There’s also openlibrary.org, which lets you borrow ebooks or scanned PDFs after registering a free account. It works like a normal 2-week library loan (I promise it’s a terrific true library resource and not some sketchy download site!) The formatting is a bit weird but I can read the PDFs in their browser even on my ancient ipad so it should be possible on whatever device you have. I borrow the epubs to my ereader and although they have a typo here and there from conversion, it doesn’t bother me. I’ve read a ton from there, they sometimes have titles that I had trouble finding elsewhere. And as others mentioned, if you have a library membership in the US you shouldn’t have any problem accessing their ebooks abroad, it’s always worked fine for me.

    I love Book Depository and it’s always free shipping. The hardest for me was not having good sources for used books. But I’ve been using medimops.de recently, they have a great new and used selection in English, with free or 1 euro shipping (must be similar for Switzerland) and frequent x% off coupons through their email newsletter. I use Amazon for used books too. I would also say if you haven’t made sure that the Kindle Unlimited selection is for you, double check that or do a free trial…I’ve done them when they’ve offered and although I found some excellent books I also know there’s not enough that I’m interested in for me to justify the subscription price.

    Wish you a lot of luck preparing for the move and the new adventure!

    • With storage, I just wonder about the cost of it vs. replacing. If it were for under a year, maybe it would be worthwhile, but I don’t know that I”ll be back that soon.

      There is Open Library, I keep forgetting about that. I have found some gems there in the past.

      Thanks for your good wishes, it will be an adventure for sure.

  15. First of all congratulations on this new and exciting journey—I hope experiencing a new culture will be wonderful for your family, even if it does come with some downsides. As far as your books go, I can certainly understand your quandary. Like some other people said, you might want to bring some of your favorites along to make the place feel more like home, but you certainly don’t want to have to move everything. It sounds like you have a pretty balanced view on it and want to share the books you love with others in the process, so I hope that helps you part with some of them!

    • Thank you, it is exciting and by this time in my life, I know there is no upside without a down. And vice versa! So i’m sure it will be with this book selection process as well.

  16. Wow, what a big change you have coming up! I hope it turns out to be a fun adventure. I have a coworker who lived in Switzerland and she did mention going through the entire English language section at the library, so I expect it’s a good idea that you’re considering your reading material now. Using the library system seems like a particularly good solution. I love the ebook system at my library, which is very easy to use. I hope you’re able to find a local library with something similar 🙂

    • I don’t have huge hopes for Swiss libraries. My ereader has lots of free classics loaded on it already and that will be a good start.

  17. Good luck for the move! If you are around Geneva, you should be able to find lots of books in English, it is such an international city. Interestingly, I have given French classes to lots of adults settling in Switzerland for work purposes of their husband! I have even prepared three (successfully!) to the Swiss citizenship test. You can send me an email if you need some resources

    • Thanks, I have actually been interested in your classes. I hope I’ll have time to do some study before I leave — I will contact you if I think I can manage.

  18. That’s exciting news, Lory! I hope your husband likes the new job and that you and your son adjust well. I’ve moved to 8 states in the last 20 years or so and it never seems to get easier. I used to keep every book I ever read/purchased, but after a few moves, I just couldn’t take it anymore. During two moves, in particular, I was ruthless in what I gave away. I only truly regret getting rid of one book and that is the Scholastic edition of Dracula that I read in middle school, the book that made me fall in love with reading. There are a couple of other books that I easily replaced when I had a desire for them, but it was that specific edition of Dracula with my name carefully written on the inside by my pre-teen hand that I miss. Since then, when purging to pack, I only keep the editions of books that really mean something to me personally. If it’s “just” a book I know I can get again, I let it go. All of this depends on how much room I’ll have at the new place, of course. We’re also getting ready to start packing up for a move in May, but it’s in the same town so I won’t have as tough a time as moving internationally. Good luck! I’d love to get together one more time before you leave, but I know how all-consuming moving is.

    • I’ve been through many cycles of book purging over the years, and I always find it a somewhat painful but illuminating process. My basic belief is that books want to be read, and if I’m hanging onto books I”m not actually going to read, they ought to have the opportunity to be read by someone else. My preferences and interests keep changing and that’s why it’s a good practice to review the collection every few years.

      Love your story about the Dracula book. It’s true, there are books that become almost talisman-like and those are exceptions to the above rule. I will look at mine with that in mind. (Plus, it reminds me I need to read Dracula.)

      I might have time for a get-together in May or June – I am hoping to be mainly done with packing by then. I’ll let you know.