Tuesday, 6 November 2018

Spring Cleaning Bookshelves and "The Book Thief"

I've been spring cleaning our bookshelves, this is a job that had to be done, no more procrastinating. I've worked in a lot of libraries over the years, and cleaned, tidied and weeded a lot of bookshelves, back in the days when libraries still had a lot of books, but when it comes to my own books, weeding them i.e. tossing them out, is never an easy thing, especially recipe books. So last week this was at the top of my job list. There's gentle weeding and there's serious weeding.

Building the discard pile. The first step is removing all of the books from the shelves, and sorting them into piles according to genre, on the kitchen bench. Or you could have piles of books stacked on the floor. Our house is open plan, with the kitchen next to the lounge and bookshelves, so it is easier to just stack them on our large kitchen island. As I sorted them into piles, I also made some decisions about what to keep and what to toss out, or rather pass on to the thrift shop. So there was a discard pile, growing by the minute. This is always a bit of a slow process though, as the book covers also need to be wiped down to remove dust, the pages all need to be flicked through, to remove any random $100.00 bills that might have been left in there for safe keeping or by a mysterious donor, and read and possibly remove those written notes that I have made and stuck in the recipe books. I am a note taker, so some books had notes in them.

I initially sorted the books into one pile of definite discards, which I left for a couple of hours so that Mr. HRK could also go through them. He wanted to keep a couple of his old trade books on metalwork and woodwork, other wise thankfully we totally agreed. So out they went in my reusable supermarket bags to the boot of the car. I have made that sound easier than it was. I found myself mulling over some of my recipe books, and of course I found a couple of good recipes in a few of them, but the date of them and the fact that I hadn't looked at them for years convinced me to toss them out. It used to be much easier to discard books in a work setting than from my personal collection, so out they went straight away into piles according to rough genres.  I don't get too serious at this point about sorting them, as I know this will take me the whole day. Hopefully the discard pile would gradually grow as I was intent on reducing my book collection by at least half.

Other things to check are the Publication date, although this isn't really relevant for some history books or even recipe books which could now be vintage or retro. Travel books  become out of date quickly so I had some Lonely Planets that were a quite a few years old. Out they went.

The condition of the book can be a factor. For a book to be valuable, it needs to be in very good condition. Friends over the years have kept old books thinking they would be valuable one day, however to be really valuable they need to be  kept in acid free archival paper, humidity free conditions, must in very good condition and ideally First Editions. I have some rare history books related to Mr. HRK's Genealogy research, wrapped in archival paper and stored in archival boxes.  However these aren't on the bookshelf and still they are not that valuable, only to us.

The Source of the book or where did it come from, and is there an inscription inside. Am I sentimental about this book?  Beware the Nostalgic Collection, however I allowed myself a couple of indulgences. This can be a trip down memory lane if done thoroughly, and can take a while but family book collections contain a lot of memories. This criteria was difficult to work around and I found some surprises.

I always knew that I had an old copy of "The Complete Works of William Shakespeare" , with an introduction by St. John Ervine, dated June 1923 sitting on our bookshelves. I had forgotten about the inscription inside the front cover which was to my Great Grandmother.  "To Mrs. De Landelles, With all good wishes from A. Bell and Jock." This one should be wrapped in archival paper and stored, as the pages are in pretty good condition although the cover is slightly damaged. This is a family treasure.

One of my favourite books to read was Jane Eyre. I read it several times during my teenage years. This treasured book of mine was a  school prize for 1st place in Grade 8 at my High School. That didn't happen again for a while ha, ha.

Then there are the Sunday School prizes with inscriptions from when I was a child; a copy of Cooking with Herbs and Spices by Rosemary Hemphill, dated 1977, which was a gift from my boss at State Library of Queensland when I left there to move North to Townsville after Mr. HRK and I were married. I still refer to that at times and it is quite special to me. Then there are some of our children's school award prizes, which should go to them now to sit on their bookshelves. It will be difficult parting with them though.

And there is a wine rack waiting to be filled.

Cleaning the bookshelves:

The books are removed and the shelves are all empty. I have the step ladder in place and then up I go to the top step,  so I can reach the top shelf, only three steps, and that's high enough for me. I clean the shelves first with a brush and pan and then wipe them down with with a cloth and a bowl of soapy water. Empty beautifully clean shelves is a sight to behold.

So the books were sorted, 8 bags of books to be discarded are in the boot of the car, and shelves are clean. A pretty good effort. I'm not looking at those bags of books again, and just to make sure, we took them straight away to the Incredible Tip Shop where they sell books and were very welcome.

The books to be kept were placed back on the clean shelves, with the middle priority shelves now filled with my recipe books, which after all are the ones I refer to most frequently. A few favourite photos and ornaments were scattered throughout the shelves decoratively, and the job is done.

It is often the size of the book and not the Country of Origin or genre which in the end determines where they sit on the bookshelf. In libraries, shelves are movable to accommodate books of different sizes, however at home they often aren't flexible,  so the larger and heavier books should sit on the lower shelves for our safety.

I placed the numerous copies of Australian Women's Weekly recipe books in a storage box on the bottom shelf and I think they will probably be weeded over time. I couldn't quite deal with that for now, there are still lots of great recipes in those.

My friends I could probably wax lyrical about this for much longer, but I know you are pleased that I''m not. I have promised myself that I will do this job each year to keep the shelves clean and the collection under control. In retrospect I had fun doing it, a lot of memories resurfaced,  I made a lot of decisions and drank lots of cups of tea during the process.

Job done! I'm pleased with the result although I'm sure an Interior Designer could work their magic with the decorating side of things, but then it wouldn't be my design, would it?

We haven't had a Book Thief in the house, thank goodness, I've been reading the Book Thief, by Markus Zusak, an Australian author. I feel I may have started this book years ago and the timing probably wasn't right so I never ventured very far with it. It's a Block buster movie now, however which is great for Markus.  I was inspired to read his book again after watching a TV interview with him, on One Plus One, an Australian ABC program where Jane Hutcheon interviews personalities and story tellers, mostly from Australia I think. He is quite unaffected by the success of the Book Thief and remains humble and philosophical about his success, and yet so enthusiastic and joyous about life and about writing. I found it a captivating interview. The Book Thief is essentially pitched at Adolescent Readers, however his storyline and writing style is captivating for old and young alike.  I'm looking forward to reading his next book, "Bridge of Clay" which should also be an entertaining read.

I might be a little quiet for a while now, my friends. No recipes today I'm sorry,  just recipe books. I had some dental surgery yesterday which will keep me quiet and on soft foods for a little while I suspect, however the freezer is full of soups and it will take a lot to keep me out of the kitchen for very long. I have a recipe for ice cream to try, so that could be the next thing..... And if you haven't been to the dentist for a while, I suggest you go for a checkup. Teeth are a precious commodity.

Bye for now,

Warm wishes



  1. A wonderful post Pauline; very interesting and informative!

  2. You did a great job Pauline.
    I also need to clean and declutter my bookshelves. It's one of my monthly goals. I have too many cookbooks. :)

    1. Cook books are so easy to accumulate aren't they Nil? I often refer to them despite online recipes.

  3. i hope your mouth feels better soon pauline. i have been putting off some dental work all year and i know i'll have to do it soon. Eeek! decluttering feels so good, doesn't it? i have way too many books in our house and i keep buying more. I do try to get rid of some every so often. were you a librarian? i was too! cheers sherry

  4. Yes I was a Librarian, in every kind of library really throughout my career, and all over the state. Quite a few are bloggers. Haven't lost the love of books, neither have you by the sounds of it. My mouth is feeling a lot better except for a small temporary protective plate, yuk. thanks Sherry.

  5. We did a book downsizing a couple of years ago at which time we initiated a new rule. Each time a book is purchased, one had to go off the bookcase. We exempted cookbooks however. Now you might ask "How's the rule working?". Well, we just order a new bookcase, so I guess not well.

    1. I can totally relate to that Ron. I''m sure the space I have created will gradually fill up until next year when I need to declutter again. Great to hear from you again.

  6. sorting through and getting rid of excess "stuff" feels quite liberating. I remember reading the complete works or William Shakespeare when I was a teenager and I found it on my parents bookshelf. take care and I hope your mouth soon feels better

    1. Thanks so much. My mouth is a lot better than when I first had it done.


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