Shelf Life #8

Photo by LAUREN GRAY on Unsplash

Shelf Life is a personal project to help me in my ongoing attempt to declutter my bookshelves. However it’s more than a Marie Condo of my books. It’s aim is to reflect, honour and let go as many books as possible. Mr Books and I may be on the move in the near future. Any such move would be a down-sizing one. The thought of packing up everything we currently own again, gives me the horrors. Therefore as time permits, I will reassess the many, many READ books stacked on my bookshelves. (The unread TBR pile is another story all together!)

The aim of Shelf Life is to let go those books that I know I will never read again and to give them a proper send off. My assessment criteria includes asking myself a few questions such as:

  • How and why did this book come to be on my bookshelf anyway?
  • When and where did I read this book?
  • What are my memories of this book?
  • Is this book part of a series, a signed copy or a special edition?
  • Was this book given to me as a present?
  • Does this book spark joy?
  • Honestly, will I ever reread this book?
  • Do I want to pack and unpack this book for one more move?
  • If I were to let this book go, would I feel regret, remorse or relief?

The current contenders are:

The Self-Help Books

For about a decade of my life, roughly 25-35, I struggled to work out what this whole thing we call life was actually for. I’m not the first person to ask such questions, and I’m sure I wont be the last. Which is no doubt why the self-help section at your local bookshop is so full. At the time, I searched for answers far and wide. Some of it was fruitful (finally finding a good-for-me counsellor); much of it was not (visiting a psychic).

During this time I acquired a number of books designed to help me work things out. Some were more useful than others. Some felt quite profound at the time. I held on to them all so I could dip in and out of them as I needed. As it turned out though, there were only 3 or 4 books that I did feel the need to dip into more than once. The rest are in the pile above. I’m pretty confident that I no longer need any of them anymore.

  • Intimacy and Solitude by Stephanie Dowrick came into my life on the 22nd December 1997 from a book shop in Randwick, Sydney. One of my sisters lived here for a number of years. I spent most of my school holidays camped in her spare bedroom, exploring Sydney. A big part of that was finding book shops to browse in.

In 1997 I had been on my own for about five years, loving my single life and not at all interested in getting married or having kids, let alone a boyfriend. But I was starting to wonder how I would make this time come to an end if and or when I was ready. I was all-but 30 and the expectations were starting to pile up from family and some friends. Dowrick’s book reminded me of all the good and positive things about being on my own and gave me the vocabulary to say so to persistent family members.

The pain of not having a lover, or of realising that you might never have that special person of your own, may also call for a period of mourning leading, if all goes well, to the relief of acceptance – which should not be confused with resignation or defeat.

  • The Universal Heart by Stephanie Dowrick was purchased on the 18th May 2003, in Orange. Once again, I was visiting a sister. Part of choosing to live alone rather than be in a soul-destroying relationship or making do with the nearest option, was to use the time to make me the best me I could be. I was full of self-doubt and fearful a lot of the time. I felt unworthy of being loved and unlovable. I knew that a big part of being alone had become a way of avoiding/confirming this belief.

To become an adult, it’s necessary to move into an unblinking realisation of the complexity of your parents, and your own complexity along with that….The influence of our parents and siblings will continue to reverberate throughout our lives. But the effects of that are not inevitable.

We do not need to become our parents. Nor do we need to live in opposition to them. We have our own choices to make. And it’s our choices…that eventually determine who we are and what we make of ourselves.

  • In 2003 a dear friend died suddenly from a quick acting acute leukemia. It was barely a month from diagnosis to funeral. It left all of us reeling. A year later, I was still processing my grief when I came across Anne Deveson’s book called Resilience. Curiously, it didn’t help. Perhaps it was too soon. Maybe I didn’t want to read about another person’s reasons to grieve; I just wanted solace from my own. One of the lessons I took from my friend’s death was grace. I wanted the people that I would leave behind one day, to remember me fondly, kindly, with love. I wanted to live my life graciously and generously.

In the meantime, I had decided to embrace life.

I joined a choir, started to look at internet dating sites and considered other career options.

Resilience is the life force that flows and connects every living thing, continually prompting regeneration and renewal.

  • Little did I know that the long weekend I brought Free Thinking by Stephanie Dowrick in January 2005 in Bathurst was about to change my life forever. That weekend a certain Mr Books was writing a letter to me. We hadn’t seen each other for nearly 14 years. Our one phone conversation in 1995 (initiated by Mr Books) did not go well, which is why he wisely decided a letter was a better option nine years later.

I didn’t end up reading very much in 2005. I was on an emotional journey that distracted me from pretty much everything else. Free Thinking was a good choice though. It consisted of short pieces that Dowrick had initially written for the Good Weekend magazine. Perfect to dip in and out of, as my mood and attention span dictated.

Many of the anxieties that harass you are superfluous: being but creatures of your fancy.

Marcus Aurelius pg 228
  • As things sometimes turn out, Stephanie Dowrick was a local resident of the Sydney suburb that Mr Books also lived in. You will have noticed already that I was a bit of a fan of Dowrick’s writing; she spoke to me at that time. Choosing Happiness: Life and Soul Essentials by Stephanie Dowrick is a signed copy from February 2006. The local bookshop (which I had no idea would be the bookshop I would come to work in nearly 3 years later), hosted an author event with Dowrick.

It’s a book I have circled and underlined many things about kindness and love.

I’m beginning to think that I may not be able to part with this book after all. Too many memories and connections.

  • Buddhism for Mothers and Buddhism for Mothers of School Children by Sarah Napthali were purchased in 2009. Both still had bookmarks in them marking the point where I had stopped reading. One was about three-quarters of the way through, the other only 30 pages in. Step-mothering had it’s ups and downs, but the answers were not to be found in a book. I found the answers by just doing it. Talking and listening also helped.
  • Dream Alchemy by Jane Teresa Anderson was purchased on the 1st May 2012 in Balmain. I first discovered Anderson’s dream show radio program back in the 1990’s and used her first book, In Your Dreams, ALL THE TIME. I had several friends also fascinated by dream imagery and meaning and we would discuss our dreams with way too much attention to detail and fervour. Turns out her new book was pretty much a reworking of the old one. My old one is full of notes and dream history. If I had a dream I wanted to interpret, the old, dog-earred book was where I turned to. The new one sat unread.

Time marches on. I’m still curious about those powerful dreams that feel packed full of meaning and symbolism, but the sense of urgency to make something of them has diminished. Perhaps it’s a young person’s thing. One of my twenty-something colleagues recently revealed how, during lockdown, she had got caught up in dream analysis. It was easy to gift her this book.

Research for this post revealed that Anderson has transformed her old radio program into a podcast – perfect!

  • Wherever You Go There You Are by Jon Kabat-Zinn was discovered on the 9th March 2014, in Gleebooks. A couple of years before, I had read The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe. One of the many book recommendations I took from him was another Kabat-Zinn’s book, Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness. I didn’t feel particularly drawn to the whole full catastrophe thing, but ‘wherever you go there you are’ was a refrain I knew well. Running away doesn’t solve anything but it can give you time to work things out for yourself.

By 2014 I was turning to these kind of self-help books less and less. Purchasing this book was more a reflex than a burning need. The French flaps AND deckled edges – two of my all-time favourite book features – may have played a starring role though!

I think this one is a keeper for a little bit longer.

That’s a pretty good shelf life. Nine books; two keepers and seven, once loved books, moved onto new homes

This post was written on the traditional land of the Wangal clan, one of the 29 clans of the Eora Nation within the Sydney basin. This Reading Life acknowledges that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are our first storytellers.

15 thoughts on “Shelf Life #8

  1. I’ve cleared out almost all of my books that could be classed as “self-help” . On reflection I found that most of them withstood more than one reading so could easily be released into the wild.


    1. I only a few self-help type books left now, and when I have the time to look through them again properly, I may be ready to let them go at that point. But it was very cathartic letting so many go as I was writing this post (there were another six or so that didn’t make it in this post, that were more teaching related texts that I also do not need any longer).


  2. I’ll look forward to what other books on your shelf are released to the wild. I just released 45 books of old dog stories from the 1800s to 1950, I had collected for years. I love those books, mainly for the illustrations from the first half of the 1900s. But time to move on and I sold the collection only this week. I was sad to see them go but they are in my memories whenever I want to visit. The newer books now are calling me.


    1. That’s how I felt about my box of Trixie Belden books. I was never going to reread them, but my happy memories will last forever. Luckily I have a niece who is a voracious reader just like I was. The box of Belden’s is now in her keeping.

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  3. Great post. Love the way you ask yourself if this is a book to keep. I used to move every 3-4 years and had thousands of books. At a point I decided to give most of them away. Of course I have added books since then. Since I now only have 3,5 billy book cases, I decided to keep only those fiction books I really love. I keep most of my nonfiction. Once the decision was made I felt more at ease. Now I can look at the important books and remember them. Usually, I hardly ever read a book more than once. For nonfiction it is another thing. These can be used to go back to, look at the notes you have made, just like you have done with your self-help books. It is always a pleasure.
    Good start in sorting out your shelves.


    1. I have a number of lovely editions of classics that will stay with me until the end. And if I fall in love with a book, I will search to see if there is a lovely edition available that can beomce my ‘keeper’. The only non-fiction I usually keep are the biographies, especially those of my favourite authors, so I can use them as reference for my blog.
      I keep the occasional history book, but the last move saw me let go of all my history texts from uni…that I had never looked into again…even though I loved them at the time.


  4. An excellent send-off for a set of old companions. I don’t know Dowrick’s work but am adding Choosing Happiness to my TBR.


  5. I related to this post at so many levels. Slowly my sister and I are doing something similar…..figuring out what books stay and what books are being put away in a loft . And while we are not following any method to this madness, the bottom line is – did this book in some way or manner leave a mark. If no, then it goes. And the first are to go are the self help books – most of mine unlike yours are collected over years of Corporate employment where all events end with a self help book ceremony – most of them are corporate bleh and are not my kinds. I must read Dowrick soon!


    1. I had a number of teaching self-help books. Many I gave to my old preschool, but some were no longer appropriate. I didn’t bother writing about those ones! It is very cathartic though, letting go some of these books that no longer ‘spark joy’. Good luck with your sorting and packing away.

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