On a recent Sunday, the mood struck me to finally weed out the three shelves in our big wall of books that are dedicated to my collection of memoirs. The shelves were sagging under stacks of books piled in front of rows of books. Since I teach memoir and review memoirs, there’s a steady influx of them, and they need to be curated once in a while so that this is truly my collection and not just an accumulation of books.

So, how to weed them out?

I decided that finally I would not keep a book I didn’t like or don’t use for teaching. As I picked up each book, I asked myself:

  1. Do I love this book?
  2. Will I ever look at it again? (for books I had read)
  3. Do I really want to read this? (for books I hadn’t read yet)

If my answer was “No” to any of these questions, it went into my donation box for Open Books, a literacy charity here in Chicago.

If only, however, it were that easy! Question No. 3 proved to be especially tricky, and quickly a “Maybe” pile was developing. And “Maybe” piles are dangerous as they tend to wander back into whatever I’ve been trying to clear out. I allowed myself a day of having the “Maybe” pile sitting around, and then, when the morning came to cart off the donation boxes, I got another box and told myself to be a grown-up and really free myself of this obligation to keep books I should be reading. Enough of that!

I am happy that I now have one shelf (it’s the lowest in the photo) where my “to read” books live, separated by language and by a stack of my current all-time favorite go-to books, namely Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way series, topped by a jar of favorite pebbles from Rogers Park Beach. It’s such an orderly life now, and an inviting reading life, too! At least where my memoir collection is concerned…

There are still plenty of other shelves to weed out, so if you have any book management advice to share, bring it on!