Our Reading Lives

Shelf/Storage/Donate: A Ranking Process for Selection

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There are a lot of things I love about my studio condo life. It’s very easy to keep tidy, because there is simply no room for mess. It prompts me to get out and see the city I love so much, more often. It reinforces the minimalist perspective I prefer to maintain in my life.

But nothing is perfect, and a serious shortage of shelving for books in my 600 square feet is my living unit’s flaw.

As a result, I have had to implement a take-no-prisoners approach to what lives on my shelf, what I keep in storage, and what I give away to be enjoyed by someone else. Like any good system, mine has simple but challenging rules to it.


The most important (and perhaps the most obvious) category of books with a non-negotiable claim to shelf space are my signed copies and other special collectibles. This is as true for my limited edition of Martian Chronicles as it is for my dear friend’s self-published first novel (that’s going to be a widely valued limited edition someday, too, you know).

As an author and shameless fangirl with no aversion for long lines, I have a lot of these. In fact, the signed and special book section takes up at least a third of my shelf, and is eternally growing.

The next priority for shelf space are the fast, furious reads I’ll crave to re-read many times over—Scott Pilgrim, Gone Girl, Eleanor and Park—for these are truly worth keeping close at hand for the quick impulse binge.

And I’m not above a little status vying. I won’t deny that there are certain titles that, while beloved, might not earn shelf space if it weren’t for the geek or literary snob cred they bestow, such as Frankenstein or Their Eyes Were Watching God.

Finally, #1s of great series make the shelf, so I can dive back into one of them when the mood strikes.


Beloved titles that may not make the cut for the limited shelf space, by necessity, are kept in boxes in my parking garage storage unit.

The first and easiest of the categories that get stored are the #2s and beyond for any series (yes, even Harry Potter and The Hunger Games). Any time I chose to pick up the #1, that’s a good couple weeks’ warning to mosey down to storage and dig out the rest of the series when I get a chance.

What else lives in storage? Nostalgia reads—books from various stages of my past and childhood that I may not really read anymore, but are associated with too many memories to part with.

The hardest choices for storage are the books I know I love, but don’t have space for and, frankly, don’t think about much when they’re out of sight. This category troubles me sometimes—they just take up space, why not give them away so someone else can discover them? But on the few occasions I’ve opened the boxes for a purge, I find I’m unwilling to part with them. So back in the box they go.


It’s never easy to get rid of a book, but it’s important when space is so limited and new books are coming in endlessly. Knowing they’ll go to a new reader helps.

There are two kinds of books I regularly manage to say goodbye to.

The first type is books I simply do not like. What can I say. It’s rare, but it happens.

The second type is books that I enjoyed, but am now done with. Let’s face it: if we read every book we liked multiple times, there would be no time for the new books. Sometimes it just has to be one and done.

This category is hard to identify—how can I be sure a mood won’t strike? That my tastes won’t evolve in its favor? That I won’t remember it a year from now and be sure I saved it, and waste half a Saturday turning my entire storage unit upside down?

All of these things have happened before, and they will happen again. But even if I saved the book, who’s to say it would have even lived up to that evolved, nostalgic memory I’d developed of it anyway?

I try not to think about it. It’s a necessary evil of life.

Besides. It’s the only way to make room for the new books.