I launched my blog four years ago today. Is that ages, or no time at all? Like I said last year, it feels like something I’ve been doing forever, and yet there are bloggers out there who are coming up on a decade or more of online writing about books.
This is my 542nd post, so the statistics tell me that I’ve been keeping up an average of just over 2.5 posts a week. Although I sometimes worry about overwhelming readers with ‘too many’ posts, I keep in mind that a) no one is obliged to read everything I post, b) a frequently updated blog is a thriving blog, and c) it only matters that it’s a manageable pace for me.
In the last year or so, I’ve gotten more involved in buddy reads and monthly challenges (things like Reading Ireland Month, 20 Books of Summer, R.I.P., Margaret Atwood Reading Month, and Novellas and Nonfiction in November); I’ve continued to take part in literary prize shadow panels and attend literary events when I can. I’ve hosted the Library Checkout for nearly a year and a half now and there are a few bloggers who join in occasionally (more are always welcome!). The posts I most enjoy putting together are write-ups of my travels, and seasonal and thematic roundups, which are generally good excuses to read backlist books from my own shelves instead of getting my head turned by new releases.
Some statistics from the past year:
My four most viewed posts were:
I got the most likes in December 2018, and the most unique visitors and comments in August.
My four favorite posts I wrote in the past year were:
Thanks to everyone who has supported me this past year, and/or all four years, by visiting the site, commenting, re-tweeting, and so on. You’re the best!
I’ve been somewhat cagey about the purpose for my trip back to the States. Yes, it was about helping my parents move, but the backstory to that is that they’re divorcing after 44 years of marriage and so their home of 13 years, one of three family homes I’ve known, is being sold. It was pretty overwhelming to see all the stacks of stuff in the garage. I was reminded of these jolting lines from Nausheen Eusuf’s lush poem about her late parents’ house, “Musée des Beaux Morts”: “Well, there you have it, folks, the crap / one collects over a lifetime.”
On the 7th I moved my mom into her new retirement community, and in my two brief spells back at the house I was busy dealing with the many, many boxes I’ve stored there for years. In the weeks leading up to my trip I’d looked into shipping everything back across the ocean, but the cost would have been in the thousands of dollars and just wasn’t worth it. Although my dad is renting a storage unit, so I’m able to leave a fair bit behind with him, I knew that a lot still had to go. Even (or maybe especially) books.
Had I had more time at my disposal, I might have looked into eBay and other ways to maximize profits, but with just a few weeks and limited time in the house itself, I had to go for the quickest and easiest options. I’m a pretty sentimental person, but I tried to approach the process rationally to minimize my emotional overload. I spent about 24 hours going through all of my boxes of books, plus the hundreds of books and DVDs my parents had set aside for sale, and figuring out the best way to dispose of everything. Maybe these steps will help you prepare for a future move.
When culling books, I asked myself:
- Do I have duplicate copies? This was often the case for works by Dickens, Eliot and Hardy. I kept the most readable copy and put the others aside for sale.
- Have I read it and rated it 3 stars or below? I don’t need to keep the Ayn Rand paperback just to prove to myself that I got through all 1000+ pages. If I’m not going to reread Jane Smiley’s A Thousand Acres, better to put it in the local Little Free Library so someone else can enjoy it for the first time.
- Can I see myself referring to this again? My college philosophy textbook had good explanations and examples, but I can access pithy statements of philosophers’ beliefs on the Internet instead. I’d like to keep up conversational French, sure, but I doubt I’ll ever open up a handbook of unusual verb conjugations.
- Am I really going to read this? I used to amass classics with the best intention of inhaling them and becoming some mythically well-read person, but many have hung around for up to two decades without making it onto my reading stack. So it was farewell to everything by Joseph Fielding and Sinclair Lewis; to obscure titles by D.H. Lawrence and Anthony Trollope; and to impossible dreams like Don Quixote. If I have a change of heart in the future, these are the kinds of books I can find in a university library or download from Project Gutenberg.
My first port of call for reselling books was Bookscouter.com (the closest equivalents in the UK are WeBuyBooks and Ziffit). This is an American site that compares buyback offers from 30 secondhand booksellers. There’s a minimum number of books / minimum value you have to meet before you can complete a trade-in. You print off a free shipping label and then drop off the box at your nearest UPS depot or arrange for a free USPS pickup. I ended up sending boxes to Powell’s Books, TextbookRush and Sellbackyourbook and making nearly a dollar per book. Powell’s bought about 18 of my paperback fiction titles, while the other two sites took a bizarre selection of around 30 books each.
Some books that were in rather poor condition or laughably outdated got shunted directly into piles for the Little Free Library or a Salvation Army donation. Many of my mom’s older Christian living books and my dad’s diet and fitness books I sorted into categories to be sold by the box in an online auction after the house sells.
All this still left about 18 boxes worth of rejects. For the non-antiquarian material I first tried 2nd & Charles, a new and secondhand bookstore chain that offers cash or store credit on select books. I planned to take the rest, including the antiquarian stuff, to an Abebooks seller in my mom’s new town, but I never managed to connect with him. So, the remaining boxes went to Wonder Book and Video, a multi-branch store I worked for during my final year of college. The great thing about them (though maybe not so great when you work there and have to sort through boxes full of dross) is that they accept absolutely everything when they make a cash offer. Although I felt silly selling back lots of literary titles I bought there over the years, at a massive loss, it was certainly an efficient way of offloading unwanted books.
As to everything else…
- I sent off 42.5 pounds (19.3 kilograms) of electronic waste to GreenDisk for recycling. That’s 75 VHS tapes, 63 CDs, 38 cassette tapes, 11 DVDs, five floppy disks, two dead cables, and one dead cell phone I saved from landfill, even if I did have to pay for the privilege.
- I donated all but a few of my jigsaw puzzles to my mom’s retirement community.
- I gave my mom my remaining framed artworks to display at her new place.
- I gave some children’s books, stuffed animals, games and craft supplies away to my nieces and nephews or friends’ kids.
- I let my step-nephew (if that’s a word) take whatever he wanted from my coin collection, and then sold that and most of my stamp collection back to a coin store.
- Most of my other collections – miniature tea sets, unicorn figurines, classic film memorabilia – all went onto the auction pile.
- My remaining furniture, a gorgeous rolltop desk plus a few bookcases, will also be part of the auction.
- You can tell I was in a mood to scale back: I finally agreed to throw out two pairs of worn-out shoes with holes in them, long after my mother had started nagging me about them.
Mementos and schoolwork have been the most difficult items for me to decide what to do with. Ultimately, I ran out of time and had to store most of the boxes as they were. But with the few that I did start to go through I tried to get in a habit of appreciating, photographing and then disposing. So I kept a handful of favorite essays and drawings, but threw out my retainers, recycled the science fair projects, and put the hand-knit baby clothes on the auction pile. (My mom kept the craziest things, like 12 inches of my hair from a major haircut I had in seventh grade – this I threw out at the edge of the woods for something to nest with.)
All this work and somehow I was still left with 29 smallish boxes to store with my dad’s stuff. Fourteen of these are full of books, with another four boxes of books stored in my mom’s spare room closet to select reading material from on future visits. So to an extent I’ve just put off the really hard work of culling until some years down the road – unless we ever move to the States, of course, in which case the intense downsizing would start over here.
At any rate, in the end it’s all just stuff. What I’m really mourning, I know, is not what I had to get rid of, or even the house, but the end of our happy family life there. I didn’t know how to say goodbye to that, or to my hometown. I’ve got the photos and the memories, and those will have to suffice.
Have you had to face a mountain of stuff recently? What are your strategies for getting rid of books and everything else?
Following up on the handful of low-key resolutions I made at the start of the month, I can report that three of my volunteer reviewing positions plus a paid one all seem to have come to a natural end, so that frees me up a little more to seek out big-name opportunities and focus on reading more of the unread books in my own collection plus library copies of books by the authors I’m most keen to try.
Now that nearly one twelfth of this ‘new’ year has passed, I feel like it’s time to set some more specific goals for 2016.
Be more strategic about which books I review in full on here. So far it’s just been a random smattering of books I requested online or through publishers. Overall, I don’t feel like I have a clear rationale for which books I feature here and which ones I just respond to via Goodreads. Perhaps I’ll focus on notable reading experiences I feel like drawing attention to (like The Goldfinch recently), or target some pre-release literary fiction to help create buzz.
Start writing more concise reviews. The task of writing just two sentences about my top books from 2015 got me thinking that sometimes less might be more. (See Shannon’s Twitter-length reviews!) Ironically, though, dumping a whole bunch of thoughts about a book can feel easier and less time-consuming than crafting one tight paragraph. As Blaise Pascal said, “I have only made this letter longer because I have not had the time to make it shorter.”
Redesign this blog and get lots of advice from other book bloggers on how to develop it. It’s my one-year anniversary coming up in March and I want to think about what direction to take the site in. I feel like I need to find a niche rather than just post at random.
Update my social media profiles and pictures. In some cases I’m still using photos taken of me nearly three years ago. Not that I’ve changed too much in appearance since then, but I might as well stay current!
Make it through my backlog of giveaway books. In the photo below, the books on the left I won through Goodreads giveaways, and the pile on the right I won through various other giveaways, usually through Twitter or publisher newsletters.
Although there is no strict compulsion to review the books you win, it’s an informal obligation I’d like to honor. Before too many months go by, then, I’d like to read and review them all. That’ll help me meet the next goal…
Get down to 100 or fewer unread books in the flat by the end of the year. Although this seems like an achievable goal, it does mean getting through about 100 of the books we own, on top of any review books that come up throughout the year, not to mention my Kindle backlog from NetGalley and Edelweiss (so I am definitely NOT counting those in the 100!).
Weed our bookshelves. Alas, it’s looking like we’re going to be moving again in August, so before then it would be great if I could reduce our overflow areas so that everything can fit on our four matching bookcases with little or no double-stacking. I’ll start by picking out the books I’ve already read and don’t think I’ll read or refer to again. Which brings me to a related goal…
Start a Little Free Library or make another arrangement for giving away proof copies. Advanced copies technically should not be resold, so ones I don’t want to keep I tend to give away to friends and family or to a thrift store if they don’t too obviously look like proofs (i.e. they have a finished cover and don’t say “Proof copy” in enormous letters). I figure if a charity shop can get £1 for the copy, why not? It’s a perfectly good, readable book. However, I should really come up with a better solution. If not an LFL, then maybe I could arrange to keep a giveaway box outside a charity shop or at the train station wherever we next live.
Take control of my e-mail inboxes. There are currently over 11,000 messages in my personal account and nearly 1,100 in my professional account. I attribute this partly to sentimentality and partly to fear of deleting something important I might need to reference later.
Find a way to incorporate exercise into my workday. I really, really need a treadmill desk. Or any piece of exercise equipment with a ledge that would hold a Kindle or laptop. That way I could continue reading and writing so that working out wouldn’t feel like lost time. Otherwise I am far too sedentary in my normal life.
What are some of your updated goals for 2016 – reading-related or otherwise?