“R” is for Reason: the 5 Practical Reasons to Collect Books

What bibliophile doesn’t love owning their own personal libraries in their living room, den, office, and their bedrooms, in their car, and on top of their fridge? Years ago, I had two bookcases filled with philosophy books I had either read or planned to read. That’s when I realized it was time to get rid of the majority of those space hogging dime a dozen paperbacks.

The truth is that most people start to collect books for almost no reason. They aren’t really collecting them either; they’re choosing to own a lot of books and they don’t know why. Maybe they read them, bought them for their education, or inherited a few. I don’t want to alarm anyone, but this is the slippery slope that leads to a cluttered house and even, down the road, to becoming a pack rat…or worse. Just kidding, if you’ve seen the melodramatic TV show “Hoarders,” you know it is treatable condition and it is not the same as collecting.

Book collecting is about appreciating and preserving books and not about dusting bookshelves or stepping over piles of them. If you own thousands of books and plan to open a book store with your pre-prepared inventory, these five practical reasons can help you determine which books to keep for yourself and which should go to your shop.
Even if you aren’t sure that’s what you want to do, using these to assess and weed your home collection can transform a stack of garage sale nothings into a near museum quality exhibit. Store the remainder of your books in boxes for a few months and you’re certain to discover you don’t miss them and probably don’t even remember them.

Reason #1: Rare
Books that are considered collectible due to their rarity are excellent to hold to onto. First editions/printings, signed copies, and books printed before 1850, have value to other collectors because they may be rare and in demand, which means they are valuable. It’s not just a book; it’s a piece of history.

While there are a few excellent websites to tell you how much a book is “worth,” I, personally, evaluate a newer book by an author’s merit or potential, because the value of books change. Imagine all the 200 librarians who stamped and cataloged J.K. Rowling’s first printing of Harry Potter and The Sorcerer’s Stone? They just didn’t know and they are probably, very sorry. If you have a first printing of an author’s first book and you believe they have potential, keep it. No one knows how long it will take a writer’s career to take off or whether they’ll ever become popular at all, but those typo ridden, shabbily printed first books are what you want.

Ninety-five percent of published authors support themselves with means outside of their writing. A new author will appreciate it if you buy the first printing of their first book to add to your collection, in fact, it will stun a few of those new authors senseless.

Reason #2: Reference
If you garden, clean house, collect butterflies, cook, do home repair, first aid… your “how-to-book” is indispensible. E-books may or may not be the future, but you know you won’t have instant access to the information you need most when you need it. By Murphy’s Law, that will be the precise instant you spill coffee on your keyboard, someone else uses your computer, there is a power outage, or your Internet connection grows temperamental.

Reference books that should have a place in every person’s home include a dictionary, The Joy of Cooking, and a Merek Manual or other more user-friendly medical reference. Others reference books you own should directly aid you in operating your house, doing your job, enjoying your hobbies, or attaining personal goals. I keep a copy of Gray’s Anatomy, because I’m a painter and a hypochondriac, the later of which I would call a hobby.

Reason #3: Recommendations
A book you loved so much that you want to loan it out over and over again is good to keep on hand. Chances are however, as you go through different stages of your life, your favorite books will change. This is one reason to frequent public libraries and used bookstores. Consider keeping a journal detailing your own personal book reviews. They’re much smaller and lighter than bookcases.

Reason #4: Recreation
There are a few books worth reading over and over. If you’ve read and reread the book more than three times already, you can anticipate you might read it again. Always keep your “comfort books” on hand and never let anyone tell you otherwise.

Reason #5: Respect
Some books command your attention and demand your respect. Above all, I feel that way about “The Monster at the End of This Book,” with lovable furry old Grover. It is a Sesame Street Golden Books publication I used to read to my younger brother and sister so often that I have it memorized. And do I still need that book? Yes, I need that book. Even though my siblings and my son have out grown it, I respect it. I find it to be an inspiration. Given Grover’s decline in popularity, I may not be able to find this treasured childhood literary staple at a bookstore or library when my grandkids come a long. But just as with recreational books, these books are few and far between.

Whether you respect a religious text, a collection of poems, or quirky novel, the books that truly change our lives are rare, special, and deserve to be kept. These may or may not be the same books we read over and over again, but they stir something deep inside whenever we dust the shelf they are on.

So what do you do with the books you do not have a practical reason to keep? Donate them, gift them, or take them to used bookstores for consignment. Libraries will sell the book even if they do not add it to their collection and either way, your donation will benefit your entire community. And if you’re like me, frequenting used bookstores can keep you prepared with reading material for almost the same cost as those exorbitant library fees they charge you for just being a tad absent-minded.
Even as a serious book-collector using these practical reasons, I own far less than one hundred books and must place decorative objects to fill in space on the solitary book case in my house. Owning the right number of books for the right reasons has been book-collecting bliss for me.

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  • Every so often, I go through my books and decide which ones go this time. I have certain favourites that I’ll not let go.
    One year I donated a pile of books to an organization of women who make bursaries available to female students. The group collects books for a book sale and advertises the sale to the public.
    But then I also get a few new ones.

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  • That’s an excellent organization to donate your books :).

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  • Theres something about really old books that you just don’t get with newer ones. A book with history seems so fitting for the printed word and feels so much more valuable for its experiences, in my eyes anyway. I tend to visit the smaller independent bookshops occassionaly to see if I can find anything to pick up, they seem much better than any of the bigger shops.

    Thanks for sharing your article.

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    • I agree Sam. Honestly, it’s hard for me to relate to people who don’t get a thrill from the smell of old dusty books. That’s normal right?

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