From Civil War Books to Books that are Really Me: How my Bookshelves are Changing

From Civil War Books to Books that are Really Me: How my Bookshelves are Changing

Written by Amanda Fristrom

This story is about how my bookshelves are changing from what I thought was a good statement about me to an accurate reflection of who I am, and therefore the right statement about me. This is related to and refers to Episode 21: Organize Yourshelf: Storing Books with Jamie Shaner

When I was a teenager,

I started to get interested in the US Civil War (which is funny to me because Jamie Shaner specifically mentions Civil War books and here I go). So I started to collect Civil War books from sales and whatever. I even subscribed to a Civil War magazine and had each issue lined up on my shelf. I did read some of the books, but I got them too fast and they were too dense and I apparently didn’t love the Civil War as much as I thought I did, because suddenly I had a huge pile of books I had never read and the idea of reading them didn’t excite me.

So I went to college, and ended up taking a Civil War history class. I loved the class, and LOVED the books I read for that class. I came home for a holiday, and was expecting I would be excited to read these books now that I was newly reinvigorated on the subject matter. But I didn’t open any of them. Not a crack. 

In an attempt to go through my things

A couple years later and help clear out my parents’ house (since I live abroad and don’t have any way to bring books with me), I started to look at these books in a new way. I love the four questions that Jamie Shaner asks in her episode, and I wish I had them then. Do I need these Civil War books? No. Do I use them. Never. Do I love them? Not really. I love the idea of them. Do I have the space? Well, at that point, it was a no.

It was easy for me to justify in my mind to keep my Harry Potter series, but not these Civil War books. I gave them away, and it was hard – probably because I didn’t have the nicely formatted process; I felt like I was giving up this idea that I like Civil War history and people wouldn’t think as highly of me if I didn’t have a bookcase full of dense and diverse books.

So when Jamie was talking about her dictionary

and thesaurus sitting on her desk as a statement that words are important to her, but that she could still give those away to make space for more books, I started to reshape my thinking about my gifted Civil War books and the books I have on my shelves right now. A lot of them are there because I want people to know that I’m interested in that topic, or that I used to be interested in it during some point of my past. And I don’t know if these books are worth keeping or not. I’d rather, I think, have books that I absolutely love. They would be a better reflection of myself and also show that books themselves are important to me. 

So much of Jamie’s organization guidelines falls back on the underlying assumption that you want to access the books that you have, because you shouldn’t have them if you don’t want them. And in that case, I have a lot of adjustments to be done. My current shelf at my parents’ house is full of the books that I LOVE, from Ella Enchanted to my favorite non-fiction I read in college. The shelves here where I actually live have a lot of books I haven’t even read, or that I am mildly attached to. Some have even been gifted to us and I don’t really have any interest in them at all! I have to look through all our books with a newly critical eye.

Jamie mentions her belief that anything can have energy,

and the way we collect, organize, and present items can be good or bad energy – I agree. There’s a different feel to the bookshelf in my old room in my parent’s house that is full of books I love than there is to this bookshelf here. When I look at them, I feel different things. So now I will be looking to create shelves that truly represent me and make me happy when I see them. I want to whittle down my collection to those volumes I can talk at length about when a guest pulls it down – and not sheepishly admit I haven’t read a single one of those dozen Civil War books and know not a whit about any of it. That’s defeating the entire purpose of having shelves of books!

Will you join with us this while you are Spring cleaning and critically look at your book collection? What systems do you have in place to make sure you’re keeping room on the shelves for the books you really want there?

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