May Madness – Books Making the Cut by Catharine Bramkamp

Let’s welcome back monthly columnist Catharine Bramkamp as she shares with us “May Madness – Books Making the Cut.”


This month we listed our medium size house for sale and I moved to our smaller house (a second house that earned its way to first house). The real estate agent recommend that not one, not two, but all the bookcases in the “big” house be moved so as to make all  the rooms look larger.

Of course I thought the lack of book cases just made all those walls look naked, but okay, we will take the five book cases up to the small, tiny house in the mountains.

Except the bookcases don’t all fit.

By extension, neither will all the decorative, important, favorite books.

Of course I have a hard copy of Spark Joy by Kondo (sitting on my book shelf, and I’m aware of the irony), so I started with that technique. I picked up each of my books and asked the question: Will I read you again? Do I love you? Did we have a satisfactory relationship?

I may not choose to read the whole book again, but for a bibliophile, there are so many more reasons for keeping a book other than reading it again.

So I asked more questions:

  • Is this volume merely inspirational? (Like keeping a full set of the OED because you could look up a word’s history any moment now.)
  • Is this part of my brainstorming and research? (So it represents progress even though none is immediately apparent?)
  • Is this a reference for subjects I’m interested in?
  • Does this represent the future?
  • Does this represent a well-read past?
  • Is the information in the book already information in my head?
  • Is there an online equivalent?
  • Does that matter?
  • Does the book represent who I want to be?
  • Does it aid in my work?
  • Does the adjacent book convey the information in a stronger or more accessible way?
  • Am I keeping it because I want to impress my guests who peruse my book shelves?
  • Does anyone peruse nowadays?
  • Do the books represent travel?
  • Do they represent what I want to learn about travel or have they already done the job?
  • Do I need to keep all the Virginia Woolf books or am I kidding myself?  Will I work on a project about her? Or do I know that libraries and collections like the Sitting Room are available and while we are at it,  I have not accessed the Sitting Room even when I lived down the street.
  • Is holding full collections of any subject the job of a library rather than me?
  • Have I touched this book in the last two years?

Only you can answer these questions for yourself and your marvelous collection of books.

And you may be additionally lucky and you will never need to face such a wrenching quandary.

But just in case, here are some of the answers that came to me as I meditated before my towering too-tall-to-fit-into-the-small-house altars of books:

  • I am feeling that the entire cannon of Natalie Goldberg stays.
  • But the diaries of Virginia Woolf can go. Just the diaries, not the biographies, Vanessa Bell’s sketches, commentaries, and a handy chart of all the members of the Bloomsbury group and who they slept with.
  • Whitman stays.
  • If you majored in English, it is very difficult to let go of any Norton Anthology.
  • The 19th century stays.
  • But the 17th century goes.
  • Copies of my own books stay.
  • All the poetry books stay.
  • Some scholarly criticism books, even ones about Whitman and Woolf, go.
  • Books for classes I no longer teach can go.
  • Half the books on self-actualization can go since I’m feeling pretty self-actualized today.
  • All the diet books can go. I feel lighter already.
  • Art books I love as well as art criticism I still don’t understand, stay. Shakespeare stays. Shakespeare always stays.

Some dictionaries stay. Yeah, I had to choose.

I love the idea of dictionaries, but have gradually released the massive tomes in favor of books about the discovery of dictionaries and what they mean to a population. I have a partial OED and an American Heritage app on my phone and computer. Spell check may be enough for you. And that’s okay.

I also like Grammarly, the free version. Which then begs the the necessity of collecting multiple grammar and usage books, but I still do. They stay.

Travel books. I moved the Lonely Planet books out since they are time sensitive in favor of those heavy massive DK books featuring each country I’ve visited. They are great visual references both before and after a trip and remind me of where I’ve been, which is immensely satisfying.

But here’s the thing. You wouldn’t take any travel book WITH you.  Just download the latest Rick Steves to your iPad and you’re good to go.

Those ideas took care of about four books, only 589 to go.

As I squinted at the collection — the lovely collection built from book stores, library sales, school giveaways and yes, Amazon, I realized needed to re-frame my questions.

Who else would benefit from this book?

Once that question was answered, I was able to pack up two Macy bags worth of writing books for my niece.

I was able to pack up history books for my brother.

I was able to pack up every mystery book I read and some I’m not sure I read because that starts to get difficult,  and deliver them to my mother.

The books that I didn’t give directly to friends, I packed up and delivered to Friends of the Library and Hospice.

It was the most satisfying method to re-home my books.

One last idea: If you are a writer or a coach, place a sticker in the books you are donating (not to friends, just to the universe in general).

Write: “Donated by – name, name of your book and your web site.”

In my case, if someone is interested in a book on writing they may be interested in a writing coach. If someone is interested in that romance, maybe they would like your romance as well. It’s a nice way to market and it’s better than nothing. It will also change the dynamic. Because I feel like I’m giving out a book to someone who would need it, and you never know who will additionally need your book or your service.

I have distributed, shared and cleared, so I can find the new homes for my collection in clear conscious, feeling that their move from my cozy book shelves will not have been in vain.

Now I must find someone who wants the bookshelves.



Catharine BramkampCatharine Bramkamp is the co-producer of Newbie Writers Podcast that focuses on newer writers and their concerns. She is a successful writing coach, Chief Storytelling Officer, and author of a dozen books including the Real Estate Diva Mysteries series, and The Future Girls series. She holds two degrees in English and is an adjunct university professor. After fracturing her wrist, she has figured out there is very little she is able to do with one hand tied behind her back.

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