Of bloggers and book hoarders

pressgram-readingpile

Up until recently, A&E ran a creepy show called Hoarders, showing the struggles of people who can’t part with their stuff and their road to recovery. These are people who are living surrounded by overwhelming amounts of stuff—and often in terrifyingly unhealthy situations.

One of the things I really appreciate is the kindness of a number of publishers who send me a lot of books. This is really kind since they don’t have to do this (and I don’t always read what is sent—because it simply isn’t possible). But it also makes me a bit nervous. How do I balance the self-imposed sense of obligation that comes with receiving a book? Do I read it? Give it a shout-out and be done with it? Say nothing at all?

Worse, there’s a tendency to want more (which may well be an example of what the Bible calls “coveting”). It doesn’t matter if I can get through it or not, it doesn’t matter if I can start it or not—when I see a book I get excited about, there’s a temptation to get it.

And before you know it, my shelves are double (or triple) stacked, and my kids are building forts out of my book collection.

Which brings me back to Hoarders. Something that really hit home for me (and my wife) over the last year is the similarity between bloggers—whether they receive books or other products—and hoarders. If we’re not careful, we can let these things pile up and they overwhelm us.

Because of this, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about three basic rules that help me keep a bit of control over the growing number of books in our house. Hopefully these will be helpful for you too:

1. Pass up. If someone sends me an email asking if they can send me a book, there are times when I wind up not responding at all (usually because it gets lost in the sea of awful that is my inbox). But often, I find myself having to respond and say “thanks, but no.” Sometimes even to books that sound interesting to me.

Even if you’re not in a position where people are asking to send you material, if you’re just going to the book store, this is an important practice to get into the habit of. When you’re looking at a book, maybe ask, “But what I really need is…” and see what you’d actually fill in the blank with. Chances are, it’s not the book that’s in your hand.

2. Prioritize. One of my early mistakes as a blogger was failing to prioritize. I signed up for too many review programs (which I now don’t use) and requested too much material. I wound up in a place where I didn’t really know where to start.

These days, I tend to choose what I’m going to read based on:

  • If I have an outside assignment (such as when I’m reviewing a book for The Gospel Coalition)
  • If it’s part of my research for a book project
  • If it’s a book that will help me serve others
  • If it’s something dealing with a cultural issue that interests me

These are pretty broad categories, but they still help me a ton simply because they force me to be a bit more particular in what I’m reading and not try to do too much.

3. Purge. This is the hardest one for book lovers in general, but is the most exciting one for my wife. But if a book is on your shelf for more than a year and you’ve not opened it, it’s probably time to give it to someone else. If you read a book and it was terrible, strip the cover and recycle it.1 If you read a book and you loved it, but know you’re not going to read it again, give it to someone else. It’s rare that you’re going to have the chance or desire to go back to most of the popular level material you’re reading, so it’s just fine to say goodbye to it.

You don’t need the books you’ve not read, and you don’t need to keep most of the ones you have. There’s no shame in admitting it and a regular purging of your books gives others the opportunity to read something potentially really great.

Show 1 footnote

  1. And yes, this is exactly what I believe you should do to terrible books. Don’t give them to someone else. Get rid of them and let them be turned into more helpful paper products.

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  • Michael Boling

    As a fellow blogger, book reviewer, and oftentimes hoarder of said books….great thoughts!

    Now to resist all of the Cyber Monday offers!

    • http://www.bloggingtheologically.com Aaron Armstrong

      Unless they’re the Ligonier deals for Sproul’s kids books. Get those :)

  • Michelle Dacus Lesley

    Eeesh. Same here. I’m such a book lover/coveter/hoarder that a few years ago I made a rule for myself that I would no longer spend money on books. And, guess what? I have over 150 books on my Kindle (all free), just sitting there waiting for me to sort through and read them, plus a stack of books I’ve received at conferences, plus library books. Clearly, I’m not in book rehab yet :0)

    Totally agree with you about recycling bad books. Friends don’t let friends read bad theology. We use ours for kindling in the outdoor fireplace.

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  • JacobAbshire

    Aaron, good ideas. I’m a booknerd myself and there is some kind of gratification I get by looking at my library. Maybe there is a hint of idolatry there. Nevertheless, I’m not sure how to take your thoughts on purging. But point well taken. ;) My use of The Preacher’s Library helps me to keep track of books worth referencing at later times. So making a home for my books that I’ll probably never read fully again is ideal.

  • http://sayable.net/ Lore Ferguson

    Yes. I’m away from home for a month and I guiltily left two stacks of books sent to me by publishers and authors sitting there. I kept thinking, “What better time to actually sit and review them than while on vacation?” But the truth is I just cannot get to them all. I cannot. I drown in them. I hardly buy any books I actually want to read any more… Thanks for writing this =)

  • Annette K

    I review many many books in a year, at least 150. The books I do not keep, I donate to a local public library. But still, my two book cases are over flowing. I have a tablet where I read eBooks, but love the printed word on paper. Thank you for a much needed article.

  • Matthew W

    I do this even though I don’t review books. Most of it is because I haven’t been able to read much over the past couple of years. I do need to do a purge. The big thing for me is that I don’t want to get rid of fiction, even if I haven’t read it – especially if it’s a classic (think Dracula, Frankenstein, etc.). That’s stuff that I’ll get to eventually… But as far as Christian living books, I do need to do a purge.

  • Don Haflich

    Aaron,
    I originally came to do book reviews because of you and Tim Challies. At first I wasn’t very smart about it and tried to review as many books as I could, my first year I read a ton and at one point I was reviewing for 25 publishers. I found this used Christian bookstore by my house and can trade in books for store credit so I can get some good old titles and have done so many times. I keep my book count below 200 which helps my wife out a bit and have cut way back on the amount I’m reviewing. Thanks for the post and the most helpful information for amateurs like me.

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