Wednesday 22 January 2020

Shelf Life #1

Photo by LAUREN GRAY on Unsplash

Shelf Life is a new personal meme to help me in my ongoing attempt to declutter my bookshelves.
It's more than a Marie Condo of my books though.
It's aim is to reflect, honour and let go as many books as possible.

Most likely, in the next 12 months or so, Mr Books and I will be on the move. The thought of packing up everything we own again, gives me the horrors.

Therefore as time permits, I will reassess the many, many READ books stacked on my bookshelves. (The unread TBR pile is another story all together!)

The aim of Shelf Life is to let go those books that I know I will never read again and to give them a proper send off.

My assessment criteria includes:
  • Does this book spark joy?
  • Honestly, will I ever reread this book?
  • How and why did this book come to be on my bookshelf anyway?
  • When and where did I read this book?
  • What are my memories of this book?
  • Is this book part of a series, a signed copy or a special edition?
  • Do I want to pack and unpack this book one more time? Or several more times, during what's left of my lifetime?
  • If I were to let this book go, would I feel regret, remorse or relief?

Let Shelf Life begin...

The top shelf on my main bookshelf is devoted to Australian authors and my first book may actually challenge the whole rationale behind doing this.

You may also be shocked to discover that I no longer stack my shelves in alphabetical order! A number of years ago, to make everything fit, I had to resort to stacking by shape and size of book. To help me find books though, I classified shelves by continent or region.

  • The Great World by David Malouf was a reread five years ago for a Classics Club Spin. Rereading my response to it only highlights why rereading at different ages and stages is such a wonderful, worthwhile thing to do. It's why I've held onto so many books for so long. It also reminds me of all the small, but personally significant feelings and details that are attached to every single book on my shelf. I can still picture myself reading this book, seated in my large blue wingback armchair, by the window of my second home in Mudgee. I remember the ahhh moments I enjoyed as I savoured Malouf's use of language. I don't remember where I sat to read it the second time though. And curiously, I recall very little about the actual story. After two read-throughs, I still can't tell you what the story is about in any detail, except for the lingering after effects of war. I will not go there for a third time.

  • When I find a new-to-me author I tend to get excited and seek out more books by them. During the same summer holiday in December 1997 that I discovered The Great World, I also picked up a copy of Remembering Babylon by Malouf at Gleebooks. I now know that it won the inaugural International Dublin Literary Award and was shortlisted for the 1993 Man Booker Prize and the Miles Franklin Award. However, I cared little for those things back then. I read for pure pleasure not prizes. I still read for pleasure (the majority of the time) but now use the many literary prizes from around the world to help me find new authors. The internet has made it much easier to keep track of such things. In 1997, the main way I found new authors was to browse, for lengthy periods of time, in bookshops and libraries. Remembering Babylon marks the beginning of my active interest in Australian literature, especially the colonial versus Indigenous perspectives.

  • Ten months later, I was back in Sydney, browsing through the fiction section of Dymock's, when I obviously decided it was time for another Malouf. How do I know this? Because back then, I used to write my name, the date (I purchased the book) and where, onto every title page of every book. Antipodes came into my life on the 6th October 1998. At this point in time, I wasn't a big fan of the short story, so it's interesting to note that Malouf not only started me down a more literary reading path, but also the short story path that I now enjoy so much. Flicking through the pages revealed another unexpected gem - an old travel ten Sydney bus pass that I had been using as a bookmark.

  • One person can have an extraordinary impact on one's reading journey. It wasn't until I read the dedication in the next book, that I realised why my reading tastes started to change from 1995 onwards. Around that time, a new English teacher arrived at the local high school. She ended up renting an apartment across from me. We became friends. She had very strong opinions about Literature with a capital L. In fact, it is thanks to her that I first read Middlemarch in 1995, one of her all-time favourite books. For my birthday in 1998, she gave me a copy of Robert Dessaix's Night Letters. It was one of the first LGBTQIA books I can remember reading. It was a time before the acronym and it seemed a pretty daring thing to do. I was never quite sure if I was reading fiction or memoir and I loved every word. I also came away with a long list of authors and books I wanted to read, including Midnight's Children by Rushdie and Bruce Chatwin's Songlines.

  • In 1999 I picked up a lovely hardback edition of Dessaix's (and so forth). It was the summer holidays and I was visiting family in Bathurst. I dived into this collection of essays and journalism, barely coming up for breath. He touched on so many things that obsessed interested me too - Russia, art, literature, Indigenous culture, travel, China and words, glorious words. I was hooked.

  • However, I waited until 2003 for my next Dessaix fix. It was midwinter in Mudgee and to cure my June blues, I was tempted by the gorgeous sunny cover of Corfu: A Novel. It was part fiction, part biofiction with oodles of travelogue, set on the magic little island of Corfu. An island that I had visited, oh so briefly, back in 1991. They only way to return was via Dessaix's story. Like (and so forth), Corfu is a lovely small sized hardback that fits nicely into one's hands as you read.

As I've been writing this post, my ideas about the purpose of Shelf Life have evolved. I started this
thinking I would be passing on all six of these books to new readers. But I now realise that I'm not ready to let them all go just yet.

Two of these books are still sparking joy. 

The act of handling them and flicking through their pages has created an urge to reread them. They still feel like they are a part of my journey or my story somehow.

Can you guess which two are staying?


  1. Oh, Brona, we are so different...I just gather the books open the bin and toss them. It sounds unfeeling but in truth parting with each book breaks my heart. Shelf life?
    It's like pulling off a it quick, less pain.

    1. I’ve always recorded, journaled, diarised and made lists Nancy. This is just another extension of that - a place for my book memories to live ­čśŐ

  2. What a super way to reflect on the pleasure these books gave you and how you came to experience them. I'm going to guess you are keeping The Great World and Night Letters

    1. Thanks for playing Karen, but neither of your choices are the keepers.

  3. This is a nice new feature. It's a difficult task ahead. I hope it brings you satisfaction in the end, and makes you feel accomplished.

    I think you are keeping Corfu and Night Letters? I'm not sure as you speak fondly of all but I know you will keep only two as you said.

    1. It will be a slow process, Silvia, but I loved putting together the first post.

      You have one of the two keepers :-)

  4. It's so hard to get rid of books - you think they mean nothing any more to you until you handle them...

    I would guess Corfu and (and so forth) might be staying...

    1. Congrats! You picked the two stayers!
      There's something about a lovely hardback edition of a book that makes it hard to let go (I'm also keen to dip my toes into Dessaix's world again.)

  5. I used to do a month of re-reading every six months,and one of the things I aimed to do was read a book by an author I had a lot of books by to see if I still needed to keep them. Or a genre (quest books like Are You Dave Gorman springs to mind). I did a fair bit of weeding that way. I do now think more carefully about whether I will keep a book once I've read it rather than letting it get on the shelves.

    1. Not many books are keeper's these days for me either Liz. Some of the classics and special editions, but the majority get passed on to family and friends or bookcrossed.

      It's quite possible that after rereading Corfu and (and so forth) I may also decide that their time is done as well, but I need to know for sure.


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