Literary spring cleaning


First aired on All in a Weekend (14/04/12)

Over the next few weeks, many Canadian families will take part in that annual event that is spring cleaning.

But it's definitely harder to part with some items more than others. Books, for example, take up space just like clothes or shoes, but people tend to feel more emotionally attached to them, even if they're spilling out of your bookshelves and cluttering up your home.

CBC Books' Erin Balser has nearly 1,000 books in her house, but has recently been on a purging spree. She talked to All in a Weekend recently to share some tips on how to work up the nerve to get rid of beloved books. The key, she says, is to ask yourself four questions when looking through your home library to decide what to keep.

Question 1: Will I honestly re-read this book in a few years?

"I'm not talking about possibly re-reading it at some point in my life, but is it a book I return to again and again? A great example for me personally is Unless by Carol Shields. I read it originally in high school, and then I re-read again in college and I found it so fascinating that my reaction to the story was so different as I got older. When I was 17, and read it for the first time I was like, "Ah, Norah's right, yeah, run away! Of course society is horrible and you're doing the right thing. And as I got older, I re-read it last year for Canada Reads. And now I'm approaching 30 and I'm considering starting my own family ... and I was like 'Norah, why are you making your mother worry? Aww, poor Rita!' And so that fascinates me, and I think I'm going to read it again once I do have children of my own, and am of the same age as Rita Winters in the book, because I'm sure my reaction will be different [then, too].

Question 2: Is there someone in my family I want to read this book?

"Again it needs to be specific: 'Oh, my dad would love this, my mom would love this, oh my friend Kendall would love this, and then I put it into a pile to give to them' ... If you can't think of someone specific in mind, then you should just give the book away."

Question 3: Is this a book I refer to again and again?

"I think cookbooks are a really great example of this. I have four or five cookbooks I use all the time, and then I have 10 that I never use that I bought because they looked interesting and then kept because they're pretty ... that's a waste of space!"

Question 4: Is there an emotional connection to this book, above and beyond feeling resonance with the characters?

"Maybe you got it as a graduation present, maybe you read it and it helped you get through a really big break-up. A perfect example for me is I went to King's College in Halifax. I did their foundation year program and so there was about 70 books we read through there, and I have a really hard time parting with those simply because when I was 18, I was away from home for the first time, it was the first time I was exposed to Plato and to Aristotle and to Gilgamesh and to Cindy Sherman, and those books really symbolized my emergence into adulthood and being challenged for the first time in dealing with all the things you deal with. One day maybe I will be able to part with them, but right now, it's not happening."

How often do you give away your books? What are the few books you could never part with? Let us know in the comments below.