IT has been a long, sometimes painful process, but over the years, Iíve learned to separate from my books.
Years ago, each one was a little gem that I wanted sitting on my bookshelf even if I had no intention of reading it again. If I lent one to a friend, it was with great hesitation, with my name prominently scrawled inside the cover and after a few months I would start dropping gentle reminders.
Only when it became clear that, as was all too often the case, the friend was one of those for whom books were considered disposable currency, would I give up.
I can trace my letting-go process to our move to London in 1994. My husband and I looked at our thousands of books and knew some had to stay on this side of the Atlantic.
We sold and gave away hundreds and felt purified.
When we moved, our furniture and boxes followed months later. I remember sitting in our much smaller flat, which could not accommodate even one of our largest bookcases, surrounded by boxes of books and wondering what we had been thinking.
Was I really ever going to read ìRace and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memoryî? How about ìHegel, Kierkegaard, Marx: Three Great Philosophers Whose Ideas Changed the Course of Civilizationî? Not unless I was under house arrest.
We gave away hundreds more without ever missing them.
But getting rid of books creates tension for many, although it is often one of the first things people have to do when downsizing or simply trying to organize their lives.
Standolyn Robertson, president of the National Association of Professional Organizers, runs her own organizing company called Things in Place, out of Massachusetts.
ìPeople have a love affair with their books,î she said.
One client was trying to purge her apartment of the hundreds of books she had read to her children and ìshe actually teared up,î Ms. Robertson said. ìThese books represented raising her kids. She didnít have room, but she was not ready to let them go. I tried to get her to understand that you can hold on to the memory.î
Ms. Robertson said she sometimes suggested that customers take photos of the covers of the books and make a memory album. She now hopes to persuade the client to pick 10 books for each child out of the hundreds she has.
A library is an obvious recipient for giveaway books, so I trotted off to my local library in Larchmont, N.Y., to find out about their experiences.
Nancy Donovan, who has worked at the library 18 years, says she is quite familiar with the overly attached syndrome.
ìThey canít throw them away, so they give them to us even if they are old and moldy and mildewed,î she said. ìAnd then we throw them in the trash.î
Ms. Donovan hastened to say that the library was happy to receive good books in good condition, but that a book ìhas to earn its keep.î
ìIt has to be current and in very good shape,î she said.
Larchmont is probably more a reading community than many other parts of the region, where more media, like DVDs and CDs, are checked out of libraries than books, Ms. Donovan said, but even so, the library can take only so much.
ìWe say we will take one container per household per week,î she said. And no cheating ó you have to be able to carry the container and fit it through the door.
ìWeíre fairly brutal,î she said. As is the case with donations to most local libraries, some of the books are tossed, and many others are sold for 50 cents or a dollar to help finance the library.
Leslie Burger, president of the American Library Association and director of the Princeton Public Library in New Jersey, said book sales were a great and easy way to raise money.
ìWe make about $45,000 a year from donated books, others make about $250,000,î she said. ìWe love people to bring us their books.î
Used-book stores are another good choice. Fred Bass, who has run the Strand bookstore in Manhattan for the last 45 years, said business was booming. He does not accept donations, but said he had no difficulty finding good books to buy.
For ìa good clean trade paperbackî he will offer about $1, maybe a little more, but it has to be in brand-new condition.
ìA lot of material has lost its timeliness,î Mr. Bass said. A novel that was a best seller 10 years ago probably will not fetch much ó if anything ó today.
Those who want to do good with their books often turn to the many charities set up to take books from those who have too many and to give to those who have too few. The only trouble is, many of those organizations want your money, not your books.
Beth Bingham, a spokeswoman for First Book (www.firstbook.org), which supplies new books to low-income children in the United States, said her group got calls about donating books all the time.
ìItís one of our biggest challenges,î she said. Her charity faces the problem many do: ìWe have no idea what condition they are in, and it takes so much labor ó we have to sort through the books one by one, to make sure theyíre not written in and content is appropriate.î
So her organization, which has been around for 15 years, does not accept used books, and provides only brand-new books to its recipients because, she said, ìwe believe that the kids we serve donít get a whole lot of new things and we want to give them that.î They do accept new books from publishers and financial contributions.
However, Better World Books (www.betterworld.com) offers a different option. Started by some freshly minted Notre Dame graduates in 2002, it collects used books and textbooks from about 1,000 campuses and 700 libraries nationwide.
As an individual, you can donate if you pay for shipping yourself; but you can buy anything off its Web site and shipping is free anywhere in the country.
ìItís like 1,000 sidewalk sales rolled into one,î said a co-founder, Xavier Helgesen. He estimates that his organization receives about 15,000 used books a day and sells about 5,000 daily.
Some of the unusable books are recycled, many of the textbooks are sent to universities in Africa and of all the books that are sold, a certain percentage of each sale ó it varies but ranges around 15 percent ó goes to nonprofit partners promoting global literacy.
Ms. Burger of Princeton Public Library says her library sends books to Better World. A neat option on the Better World Web site lets you type in your ZIP code to find out if your local library donates to the group. You can buy specifically from that collection and up to 35 percent of what you pay for those books goes back to that library.
For those who donít want to pack up and lug their books, there is the option of selling online; two of the most popular Web sites for individuals to buy and sell used books are www.amazon.com, and www.half.com, which is part of eBay.
Many have blamed online bookstores for driving many bricks-and-mortar new-book stores out of business, but online options may help the used-book market, said Alex Green, owner of Back Pages Books, which sells new and used books in Waltham, Mass.
ìPeople donít have to contend with this so much out here,î he said, ìbut if youíre in the middle of nowhere, how are you going to get to a used-book store?î
A quirkier and slower way to dispose of your books is through a Web site called www.bookcrossing.com, which encourages people to ìreleaseî their books by leaving them in a public space.
At the site, you register a personal identification number, print out a label and place it on an inside cover. After you ìreleaseî the book, you can check the site to see if anyone reports finding it, reading it and has an opinion about it. Bookcrossing aficionados are even having get-togethers.
As I look around my home office, I still see so many books that I could weed out. That three-pound biography of Disraeli? The tome on globalization? I just cannot see myself curling up with them at bedtime.
Time to get them into the hands of someone yearning to read them.