Book Inventory

blogger: Cynthia Ruchti

inventory CynthiaBook inventory. It had to happen eventually. When solid wood shelves sag like a swayback horse and avalanches have nothing to do with snow, it’s time to either buy more bookshelves or take inventory of what must stay and what can go.

I probably lost half of our blog readers with the words “can go.” Books? Go? Leave the house? Go live somewhere else? What is this concept of which she speaks?

I tackled the inventory/purging task after procrastinating a mere eight years. What I learned about myself, about authors, and about books fell into categories much more naturally than the volumes I retained and reorganized.

Inventory Observation: Unfinished Business

More books than I’d care to admit had bookmarks a third of the way through, halfway, one chapter in. Something made me set the book aside before finishing it. Life events? Maybe. Most likely it was one of four other possibilities.

  • The book (fiction or nonfiction) failed to hold my attention and pull me through to the last page.
  • The book established an idea fleshed out well enough in the beginning chapters that everything beyond the beginning seemed repetitious. Compelling, un-put-downable books build a case, build layers of a story, leave something for the next chapter and the next.
  • The author’s writing style didn’t appeal to me, even though it might have been deemed a bestseller in others’ opinions. It’s like the ongoing battle between those who like sweet or unsweet tea.
  • Poor editing or poor research grated on my last nerve when I set the book aside, unfinished.

Inventory Observation: Worth Saving, Unrelated to the Writing

inventory booksI reshelved a significant number of books whose value lay in something other than the writing.

I opened a dusty book I’d never read, but found that the original owner had been my grandmother, who died when I was in first grade. She’d written her name inside the cover. I kept the book because it connected me to a grandmother I didn’t have a chance to get to know.

I kept books that marked defining moments in my spiritual life. Their spines tell a story.

I held onto books with personal messages in the autographs.

Inventory Observation: Old Classics, New Classics

Keeping historical classics made me feel instantly smarter. Keeping new classics made me feel savvy. More than that, though, when others–visitors, children, grandchildren–take their own inventories of books that were important to me, the literary legacy will show my tastes ran from Tennyson to Francine Rivers.

Inventory Observation: Empty Promises

I have promises yet to be fulfilled. As I pulled books from the shelves to make decisions–Keep or let someone else enjoy?–it became clear that I need to step up the pace of my reading so my to-be-read stack doesn’t turn into a library of good intentions unfulfilled.ย inventoried books

Inventory Observation: Thanks for the Memories

Some decisions were no-brainers. I could safely part with a book about preparing for Y2K, and books about parenting strong-willed children. Actually, I passed those on to the parents of my strong-willed grandchildren. I held other books in my hands and silently thanked the author for the memories, the insights, the experience, the journey.

Imagine having a book owner take a similar inventory and hold your book in their hands. Would the book be reshelved among new classics? Kept for its evergreen, timeless message or story? Reread? Boxed up for someone else to enjoy?

Whatever it is you’re in the process of writing, consider inventory day at a reader’s house. “Should it stay or should it go? What makes this book worth the shelf space?”

It may be the heart of the author. The way the book made the reader feel. The memories it evokes. The dog-eared pages or yellow highlighting or the personalized autograph. It may be the turning point the book represents.

Inventory. What a great reminder that the text on the page is only half the story.


Is it time to discover what a book inventory can reveal?


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  1. Get rid of furniture; build more shelves. Guests can sit on the floor, plates in their laps (makes it easier for the roaming Pit Bulls to mooch). C’mon over! We eats at seven, or whenever you arrive.
    * Seriously, I’ve found that I have too often disposed of a book only to grow into it later, and have to buy the blessed thing all over again.
    * But now…well, I have a pretty good collection of aeronautical books, probably equivalent to a decent technical library, and Barb, bless her socks, just isn’t a budding aviatrix. So I’m making contacts in this niche, with dudes who work with museums, to give her a fair price for what’s there.

  2. pat Iacuzzi says:

    I’m with Andrew on this…build more shelves. Have been to sites that show those candid photos of legendary authors (usually in black-and-white–or a sepia-ish tone to give it an aged look to imply wisdom) and they have tons of books scattered around, their desks buried in stacks of paper. And adding a cat or dog to the mix is helpful too. (by the way, today is International Cat Day ๐Ÿ™‚
    It’s hard for me to get rid of my books; they’re family, and of course, you never know when you’ll need the information. I’ve read some twice over, and like DVDs I try to choose carefully so I can enjoy them more than once. I may have missed something the first time around–or may prompt me to view things differently, now.
    Thank you for this, Cynthia– this post gave me a sense of comfort as I thought back on some of the books I’ve read and still cherish. p.s. yes, there are some that have homes elsewhere.

  3. Hannah Currie says:

    Aw, this post made me sentimental. I’ve gone through my books recently and saw so many of my own choices of what to keep and what to let go in what you wrote. Had to laugh at the comment about keeping classics because they make you feel smarter ๐Ÿ™‚ I totally have a couple of those books! But yeah, each of the books I kept (all four hundred and something of them…) tell a story not just within their pages but of a part of my life and who I am. Books are so precious. I hope one day people look at my books on their shelves and smile.
    Thanks for this post!

  4. Let me add a category to the list of keepers: reference books: commentaries, multiple versions of the Bible, concordances, lexicons (can you tell my husband is a pastor?). Many of the books haven’t been touched in years, now that the same information is just a click away. But hey! Should the net disintegrate, we have a backup plan.

  5. Renee Garrick says:

    Cynthia, thanks for your post–it feels like having “permission” to let go of some volumes. I’ve been known for loaning a good read first to one friend and then a relative, then another friend . . . or passing on a book for keeps. More recently I’ve found the perfect place to donate a not-so-well-worn book. The assisted living/nursing home/rehab center where my mother spent some of her final days is host to a lovely gift shop that operates with donated merchandise. It’s the perfect way to bless others in honor of Mom.

  6. What a great post! I find myself going through the books on our shelves about every year. We have a lot of nonfiction titles, some by well-known authors. Some of these I have read, but most I have not…but there is a desire to read them…one day.
    *I may have grinned at your description of your TBR pile as a library of good intentions unfulfilled. Umm, I might have one of those piles. It’s time for me to go through that stack and see if there are titles I can pass on to others.
    *And, thank you for the questions you asked to help us evaluate our own stories. I’m definitely keeping those in mind as I revise and edit my current work.

  7. Mollie Rushmeyer says:

    It is so hard to get rid of books! (The beloved ones anyway.) They’re like photographs — memories of what my life was like when I read them. But, I agree with you, Cynthia. If some didn’t grab you, make room for new, exciting literary adventures!

  8. Michelle Ule says:

    I’m disagreeing with all of you. ๐Ÿ™‚

    I’ve written about culling the books several times on my own blog and have come to see that a book does little good sitting on a shelf and needs to be shared.

    The Navy (thank you, American taxpayers) moved us all over the country for 20 years. I spent a lot of time visiting libraries and reading (to keep from going mad while my husband was out to sea and the family kept growing with wildly intelligently children!).

    I could not have survived without the library (thank you, American taxpayers).

    We hauled books all over the country and I particularly clung to my Christian books–because I didn’t know if I’d ever be able to read them again.

    But after all that moving, I decided it was time to cull. The Christian books, in particular, could go to our church library–now that we were staying–to be shared with others. If I needed one, I could go to the library at church.

    Anything I could find at the library–especially classics–I donated to the library book sales. My husband has since purchased all the works of Austen, Scott and a number of authors for the Kindle and they’re readily available at any time and place. ๐Ÿ™‚

    I’ve stood in awe at boxes filled with 40 years worth of Bible study material. What to do with that?

    But when I realized I’ve never reviewed material/books I’ve filled in before–despite going on to teach those Bible studies later–I decided they needed to go.

    But where?

    A friend runs a jail ministry. He was anxious for anything!

    So, He got several boxes worth of Bible study material (with my name removed), a bunch of Bibles off our church’s book cart, and then I cleaned off an entire shelf of Christian living books.

    WHY should I keep books I never reread when someone else–in jail no less–could benefit from learning about prayer, parenting, marriage, worshipping God and so forth?

    They were delighted.

    I feel like a much better steward.

    The empty shelf is now full again . . .

    So, yes, keep the books you love. But, hold the rest in a loose hand. Someone else could very well use it.

    • Cynthia Ruchti says:

      Great insights and ideas, Michelle.

    • I love that view. We don’t have a church library and our public library will take books for the library sale, but so often the books just end up in a dark storage room. For now, I use my personal collection like a private library. I often lend my books out to people and find that gives me the excuse I need to buy more books. ๐Ÿ˜‰ LOL

    • Mary Kay Moody says:

      Ah, great reminder~loose hands. Passing on blessings as we do with spiritual ones. Conduits, not containers. Thanks, Michelle. Never thought about the prison ministry.

    • Samuel Hall says:

      I’m with you, Michelle. Very practical. Esp. like your decision to pass on the Bible studies to the jail ministry.

  9. Michelle Ule says:

    One other thing.

    Our church has a free book cart. It has been a phenomenal success.

    People bring in novels, Christian living, Bibles, Bible studies, gift books, Luther’s Small Catechism, hymnals and others and leave them on the cart.

    Several people on our Board of Education routinely scan the titles and remove anything that isn’t in accordance with our church guidelines (they’re shifted to the public library book sale).

    The books are free and the cart is heavily used.

    We estimate that cart has “given away” 5000 books in the last five years.

    They’re available to anyone and since BSF, AA, TOPS, regular church members, visitors and homeless people walk past the cart all the time, it serves as a passive ministry.

    All it takes is generous hearts, or shelf cleaning, along with routine monitoring, and it’s done.

    Consider a cart for your church. Who knows where the Word can go from there?

  10. Cynthia Ruchti says:

    Happy Book Lovers Day, by the way! Yes, it’s official. August 9th!

    In full disclosure, and to quell any rumors that I may have lost my “first love” for books, what remained after my recent culling was seven full bookcases. ๐Ÿ™‚

    And the joy of seeing a bit of empty shelf space is that I’m making room for more literary foster children to love and care for.

  11. What a great thought-provoking post, Cynthia. I definitely have books from my favorite authors that I can’t part with. As far as non-fiction … I have my favorite author who taught me so much about God and I caught her contagious love for Him. And because of that, I don’t need her books like I once did. I think I could part with them now. I’ve grown. But that author will always be special to me. And I love holding on to my favorite novels, well, because there’s Instagram! ๐Ÿ™‚ And because the ones I keep are the ones I love to read again. All My Belongings has appeared in several of my bookish Instagram pictures, Cynthia. ๐Ÿ™‚

  12. Carol Ashby says:

    Cynthia, you inspired me to scan the shelves in the library/computer room. Maybe it is time to pass on “Reading Japanese” (never will get there now), “Kitchen Candlemaking” (like I’ll ever do that again!), “Glenn’s Complete Bicycle Manual: Selection, Maintenance, Repair,” the tales of the Brothers Grimm in the original German, and “Bird Diseases” (I don’t breed parakeets and cockatiels anymore, although the pictures are still useful for totally killing an appetite). I just need to figure out how to find a good home for the more unusual ones. Any suggestions?

    • Cynthia Ruchti says:

      I envision a Facebook post that says: Free to good home for someone willing to pay the postage. Every one of those no-longer-needed books will be a treasure to someone else.

      • Carol Ashby says:

        Great idea! I have the feet on a shelf of pet bird books alone, and I probably only need two (books, not feet.) Same for aquarium fish.

      • Carol Ashby says:

        Three feet, not the feet. That’s what I get for using words instead of numerals for numbers. Should have reverted to my old techie self to avoid the mistake.

    • Carol, a book-reading cousin recently died, leaving a collection of more than 1500 scholarly books. His nephew discovered a friends of the local university library group, who gladly accepted the books to be sorted either for the library or for sale.

  13. Well, this is beautiful. I’m passing it on to my favorite librarian. I haven’t been able to tackle our entire home library at once, but I have been doing the same thing one shelf at a time. I pray the books I’ve written are ones a reader gives thanks for before passing them on.

  14. Old handwritten recipe cards can be that way too. The handwriting and the name of the giver is a link to the past and to some of the most important people in my life, many long gone, like my two grandmothers. I love their handwriting. My maternal grandmother always, until the end, wrote with a quill-type pen dipped in blue ink. She made the most delicious sugar cookies ever, and I have her recipe written in her elegant script. Wonderful!

  15. My house is a testament to the buy more shelves theory. We currently have fourteen cases full to the brim and five more being used as displays for pictures, pottery, and Legoes until they too overrun with books. I have weeded down once in my life and regret losing most of those books, some I gave away and that was a blessed experience. I hope my books will be read, whether they are given away and travel from person to person, or sit on a shelf to be reread over and over like a good serving of comfort food. Inevitably, my books will be removed from someone’s shelf–not every book is for every person–but I hope wherever they go, they are enjoyed by someone.

  16. This blog post touches me so deeply for many reasons. First, because my mother always read to us in all the voices and made for a wonderful time for my siblings and me. She took us to the library often and I had my first library card as soon as I reached the acceptable age. My father read every night in his green leather chair that eventually became worn from the number of times he or someone else in the family parked them self in the chair for a good read. Both of my parents gave me an undying love of books, and although they have both passed–my dad when I was 21 and my mother when I was 53–they left on me the love of words and stories, of literary adventures, and the ability to learn by reading. I am forever grateful. They had well-curated shelves of books, and up until the summer of 2014 so did I. I had shelves and shelves of books, all hand picked for various reasons. My shelves held both fiction and nonfiction about equally in number–history, how-to books, classics, favorites from childhood, resource books of all kinds…so many beloved books. The summer of 2014 I experienced a very devastating situation and illness, and we had to move from a larger home to the small town-home we live in now (which both my husband and I lovingly call, “The Nest.” Unfortunately, there would be room for only some of my books. We had three garage sales, gave many treasured items away, and had to pack up box after box of books and gave them to some friends from church to sell. We didn’t even ask for money back, and to this day I have no idea where any of those books are…but God does. Others, such as a small library of books from the Writer’s Digest Book Club, I gave to our local middle school for their writing club. I was not sure I would write, much less anything else. I had to do it. I had no choice. It was devastating to me. I loved those books for all they stood for:: bringing me to worlds of hope and happiness when my father began to physically abuse me at the age of six and for the following ten years until I committed my life to Christ (after that he never laid a hand on me, and became a Christian three years late while I was away in nursing school). They were what taught me how to be a wife and mother, a nurse and a writer. They gave me The Bible and so much biblical–based wisdom and knowledge. Books taught me about my Beloved Jesus who rescued me. But, I had to let them go. It still is hard every time I think of a book I had that I wanted to review, read again, or share with someone else. Often times I would buy two of certain books, one to keep and one to share. Words and books, along with the love of God and others have transformed my life, and are helping me to help others. Since we moved in September of 2014, my husband has been surprised several times at my ability to find space for shelves for books, some new and some to replace those that had to go because of the move. I will always have a pile of nonfiction and a pile of nonfiction books that are waiting to be read, and I am always buying books to give to others. I am also learning I have to be very selective due to our space. That’s when I thank God for my Kindle, and the library!

    Thanks so much Cynthia for this post. I am praying and working hard to create books that will last lifetimes.

  17. This is not only a space saver but good for the mind. To clear the clutter is to clear the mind and a search for the word clutter revealed crowded confusion and disorder. I am beginning the process of getting more organized to improve my productivity which has been in the zero range and this will inspire me to continue.

    • I never consider books as clutter, but I do like to have my books in order and grouped in specific genres and content, as well as author. Usually it is the rest of my office space that can get cluttered. And, ugh,clutter does serve to distract my mind and make me want to organize and clean instead of write. It’s much harder to sit done in the midst of clutter to write, but once I am there, I am in a zone.

      One time when I was talking to the Lord about how I needed to have things in
      order to accomplish my writing, He reminded me of Paul who wrote in prison. What a reminder!. Yes, it is tons easier to think and produce in a clear and organized space, but it is not necessary if there burns a passion and words

    • Cynthia Ruchti says:

      “My productivity…which has been in the zero range.” ๐Ÿ™‚ Can I see a show of hands?

      • Cynthia, it is so easy to be unproductive in the summer! Oh, the barbecues and picnics, trips to the zoo, the beach, Lake Harriet for music and kayaking just calling to me. It takes a heap of discipline, my sign on my desk or shelf nearby encouraging me to stay focused, and another smaller glitzy sign on the edge of my desk which declares to me daily, “Dreams are goals with deadlines.”–yes, this is my writing world. What finally gets me to sit down is knowing I never want to be sitting in a rocker at 80 saying. “If only…” AND, of course, promising myself a movie with a friend, a trip to my favorite restaurant downtown, or just an uninterrupted hour or two of reading seems to always work to get my seat in my chair in front of my laptop and get to work. Have a wonderful summer, and you do produce, but like the beautiful dark soil that grows the food to feed many, so do we need time to let our soil, the bed in our mind and heart lay fallow collecting the richness of life giving , life growing stories that too feed many. I’m so very glad I was able to see you, Janet, and Wendy in person at the Northwestern Christian Writers Conference this year. All of you are such wonderful examples for the publishing industry.

  18. What an excellent reminder to think of the fate of our books when we write. It might make us take a different course.

    I purge my book collection two times a year: spring for the library book sale and fall for the church annual tag sale. As a blogger, I’ve accumulated more books than I could ever hope to read (some sent without requesting them). There are still close to a dozen boxes of books on my office floor pending some kind of decision. Because the books are donated, I don’t feel like I’m doing the book–or the author–any disservice. I also occasionally go through my Goodreads “Want to Read” list to eliminate titles that are no longer of interest to me.

    There are always books that will stay close to my heart and on the shelves: my 1971 edition of the Little House books, the Anne of Green Gables books and Lucy Maud Montgomery collection that were presents for my 11th birthday, my favorite contemporary authors like Kathi Macias, Charlotte Hubbard, Marilyn Meredith and Karen White, and all my reference materials that I use in writing my own stories.

    I hope everyone has a blessed week.

  19. I’ll be downsizing next year so I’m going through my books now. I’ll have to give away hundreds of them. The easiest to part with are those about teaching, since I’m retired, and parenting, since I’m a grandmother. Some of my writing books are outdated and easy to let go. But I really don’t want to part with any of the fiction books. Even if I haven’t read them for years, I want to have them available in the future. Thanks for letting me know I’m not the only one facing such difficult choices.

  20. Daphne Woodall says:

    I’ve had similar thoughts on my sagging shelves. I just bought stronger shelves. :-). I have a hard time parting with long owned books. I have forced myself to throw out outdated writing books and donate some others.

  21. Mary R. P. Schutter says:

    Being more mature (older) people thinking ahead to the days when we enter heaven, my husband and I have been weeding out possessions. We donated most of our no longer needed/wanted collection of children’s books either to younger fellow educators or a local Christian resale shop. Books for adult readers also go to a resale shop. It gives us joy knowing that others will hold these books in their hands and open them to find knowledge, adventure, or good old relaxation. By donating some of our books, we also were able to donate a large bookcase that someone else can use to house a growing book collection. For us, book donation has been a win-win.

  22. Mary Kay Moody says:

    This is the day, a turning point! I feel vindicated about having a pile of those unfinished books, and grateful to sense the freedom that it’s not only okay but GOOD to send them on their way sans guilt that for some reason they didn’t draw me in as they did thousands of others. My bookshelves (need more anyway!) thank you, Cynthia.

  23. Having to get rid of lots of books because I’ll be moving to a smaller place was making me feel sad, but the comments on this post have cheered me up. Yes, it’s a blessing to know other people will be able to enjoy the books I can’t keep, especially the ones for children. My granddaughter was visiting this week and helped me choose which picture books to keep and which ones to give away. The ones I don’t keep will go to children in military families.

  24. Thanks for sharing your insights. You really got me thinking about what it takes to make a book cherished.

  25. Becky Melby says:

    I had two huge sagging book shelves filled with what I consider to be my friends. I couldnโ€™t imagine parting with them or even going through the process you described. It felt like betrayal, like having to vote someone on the island. And then a friend of mine held a garage sale to raise funds for a maternity home she is helping to build in Kenya. The Holy Spirit whispered that this would be a worthy place to donate some of my friendsโ€”allowing me to offer a double blessing to a good cause and to readers who might never be exposed to Christian writers any other way.

    The process was painful and I collected a massive pile of bookmarks for the same reasons you mentioned, but it was freeing also. I got rid of one whole shelf and now have a room for the cute little antique desk I inherited from grandparents I never met…a nice place to sit and read, or write, another book I can donate in the future.