Our Reading Lives

The Painful Process of Getting Rid of Books

Matt Grant

Staff Writer

Matt Grant is a Brooklyn-based writer, reader, and pop culture enthusiast. In addition to BookRiot, he is a staff writer at LitHub, where he writes about book news. Matt's work has appeared in Longreads, The Brooklyn Rail, Tor.com, Huffpost, and more. You can follow him online at www.mattgrantwriter.com or on Twitter: @mattgrantwriter

Because my wife is an actual human monster, she has decreed that we have to get rid of some of our books this year. (N.B. my wife is actually a very lovely human being, but for some reason doesn’t recognize windowsills, the floor, and the top of the toilet tank as “legitimate bookshelves.” We are working on this.)

For what it’s worth, she’s not wrong. The book piles have taken over too much space in our tiny apartment, and are causing undue anxiety. We even expanded our bookshelf space from two to four, but even then, there’s just too many books to fit. It doesn’t help that I’m constantly finding new ones to read, whether at the library, on my Kindle, at book sales, on audio, or just left out on the steps of my neighborhood.


The painful process has already begun. The other day we left an entire box of books on the street. They were gone in less than an hour. Most were books we had already read, but some were ones we’d had lying around for a year or more and just never gotten to. Some were books I’ve read but she hasn’t; some were ones she’s read but I haven’t. Some were books that we’d both read and didn’t particularly like, but thought were fun to keep around.

No matter the circumstances, I still felt a twinge of regret as we gave them away.

Which made me think: why is giving away books so hard? It’s one thing to lend out or give them away to friends. Sharing books with others you know can be a source of joy, as you hope that they will love them as much as you. But it’s quite another to send books out into the world, never knowing who will get them.

I’ve thought a lot about this over the last few days. For me, I believe that it’s got something to do with the fact that books, whether they’re read, unread, or whatever, provide a lot of comfort. There’s just something about being surrounded by untouched worlds and stories, knowing that any moment, if you wanted to dive back into them, they are there, waiting.

There’s also the fact that I never know if the next unread book will become my new favorite. If I let it go without reading it, am I giving up on the next book that I might fall head over heels in love with?

Regardless of these doubts, I’ve slowly had to come to the realization, as painful as it is to admit, that I just can’t read every book in the world. It’s impossible to make time for all the books I’ve always wanted to read (another round of Pulitzer Prize winners was announced??) as well as the ones I never knew existed, but once I hear about them, desperately need in my life (stop emailing me, Kindle Daily Deals!).

So in order to pare down (and to keep some semblance of domestic bliss in my life), I’ve decided that I just have to be extra judicious about what books I actually want, and need, to make time for in my life. So that just means being careful with what I’m taking home. If I’m not actually going to have time for it in the next two or three weeks, it will most likely sit on the shelf unused for years.

I’ve realized that most books I read I like okay, very few I absolutely can’t stand, but I feel like even fewer I actually have that head-over-heels, can’t-miss, never-want-to-give-up love for. There’s a chance that I’m giving up on some of those as I release books from my life, but I’ll never know for certain, and in some sense, I’m making peace with that.

There are always more books out there, waiting to be discovered.