Culling time

I hate to say it, and I hate even more to do it, but it's time to weed out the library again.  I do it twice a year or so, and last time I failed so spectacularly that after the weeding was "done," I still couldn't even get the new batch of books onto shelves.

I've tried (apparently with limited success) to be quite strict with myself by asking the following questions:

  • Do I now have a better book on the subject? I used to keep every Middle Eastern/North African book simply because there weren't all that many.  But nowadays, when we get 3 books on Morocco alone in a single year, we're spoiled for choice.  
  • Did I really only keep it because it was pretty?  I'm a sucker for design.  I'm always amazed how many books I've kept around simply because the layout was attractive, even though the recipes might have been meh.
  • Did I really only keep it because the author was famous?  I used to get really excited whenever there was a new book by Mark Bittman or Lidia Bastianich or Mario Batali.  Although I still like these authors, they publish so prolifically, and there's so much overlap between one book and the next, they start to feel more like a commodity than a keeper.  Besides, at this point each of these authors would have to have their own shelf.
  • Does it sell for less than $6 on the used-book market?  This is a funny question.  But I ask it because it helps me let go.  I figure that if I really really want this book back someday, I can replace it pretty easily from half.com.  Also, when a book starts selling for such a low price, it's often an indicator that it didn't end up offering much to its readership - further reducing the likelihood I will later discover a gem of a recipe in it.
  • Is it indexed on EYB? It's really true, isn't it?  The books that are indexed here on EYB (or to be Indexed Soon) are measurably more valuable to us than the ones that aren't.  Someday soon, they might yield something we actually use!  It could happen today! when we're just randomly recipe-searching "pomegranate molasses"!

These questions get me some of the way there.  But clearly it isn't enough.  Can you help?  What do you ask yourself when you're cleaning out books?  And do you ever break your own rules?

13 Comments

  • Jane  on  12/11/2012 at 2:06 PM

    At the moment I have the luxury of as much space as I need for all my cookbooks so I have never had to cull. But next year I'm downsizing and I will have to do a serious cull and it's going to be so difficult. Whether it's indexed on EYB is an easy decision - if it's indexed, it stays. But for the others, it's going to be very hard.

  • LauraG  on  12/11/2012 at 4:44 PM

    What I ask myself when cleaning out books is, "Where can I squeeze another bookcase?"

  • tsusan  on  12/12/2012 at 8:25 AM

    Laura, ha! that's been our strategy too - a bookcase a year! And Jane, I thought of another complicating factor: if it isn't indexed, but it's on a lot of members' shelves, there's always the chance that a member will index it...how can one ever get rid of anything at all!?

  • sisterspat  on  12/12/2012 at 10:06 AM

    Well I feel much better having 250+ cookbooks, I love them all and just don't want to part with a single one. I am slowing down in 2013 and will only order the very special cookbook. I have a very small space and just do not have the room for more. Nothing better than a good cup of coffee and a good cookbook to look thru! Happy Holidays to everyone

  • krusso119  on  12/12/2012 at 1:53 PM

    I'm not so sure I agree with the reasoning behind books that sell cheaply on the secondary market. Price is determined by both demand AND supply. So the low price can also merely be an indication that way too many copies of that particular book were published versus actual demand, not that the book itself isn't a book worth keeping. And it would annoy me to no end to have to buy back a book that I discarded because I discovered at a later date that I just had to have the book back in my collection. But I currently own almost 850 books and I have just about run out of room for any more shelves. (And the last place I have for shelfs isn't really happening any time soon because it would involve a major expenditure.) I REALLY need to do some serious culling but it's going to be horrendous. I long ago got rid of the duds and/or the books I had simply outgrown. I too am also a sucker for good design and find it almost impossible to part with such books even if they rarely get much use. What I really need is a bigger house. Which is not even on the radar at this point in time...

  • lesorelle  on  12/12/2012 at 5:40 PM

    I'm also culling and funny enough, also cut down on volumes from Mario Batali and Lidia Bastianich. I still have two copies of How To Cook Everything — old and revised; the old copy is falling apart, but holds too many margin notes to get rid of...

  • tasteslike  on  12/12/2012 at 5:54 PM

    My recent garage sale purchase of 8 new bookcases means I can avoid culling for now, though in the long run, that's just enabling behavior. Just talked to head of our local university's culinary department who said they would welcome any cookbook contributions and allow me to use the books via the university library. If I could just cut my 3000+ collection by half, we'd have a lot more room in the house...and my husband would be ecstatic. On the other hand, I'm a cookbook junkie and really don't want to do that. Maybe I need to start Cookbooks Anonymous!

  • tsusan  on  12/13/2012 at 9:01 AM

    I think Cookbooks Anonymous might be what we have right here!

  • TrishaCP  on  12/14/2012 at 2:47 PM

    I have less than 100 cookbooks, and already get the stinkeye from my husband when another appears. So (for now), I have been relying on Kindle/Ipad instead to enable my habit. For those of you that have thousands in your collection, how did you get them into your homes in the first place? (PLEASE help enable me!)

  • Potterhill  on  12/16/2012 at 3:42 PM

    I recently bought two big gently used commercialbookcases so I could put away all the "new" ones before my daughter's wedding. I think I'm over 1100 now but have brought them in the house over many years. I long ago rationalized my cookbooks and magazines by the thought that I don't smoke, drink to excess, or fool around.....so therefore he has nothing to complain about.... I currently have no magazine subscriptions. That was a major step on the path to recovery. I don't care how cheap the sub is, once it's in, it rarely goes out. I buy the very occasional individual issue. I keep trying to resist new books, but I just am compelled by a power that I cannot defy, or identify. I LOVE my cookbooks!

  • lorloff  on  12/30/2012 at 10:51 PM

    Dear all. I am not sure this is on point bus I suspect so. I too struggle to cull books but am seldom very successful especially with indexed books. Wouldn't It be great if those who want to call could post a list of what they want to cut out of their collection and another member could buy it. On a related Susie I have Gourmet, Bon Appetite, eating well, cooks illustrated and fine cooking either from the first issue or back to the eighties. How far back are indexers planning to go and does anyone have suggestions on who may want the older parts of the collection that may never be indexed. I do have hard copy indexes for gourmet, food and wine and Bon appetite.

  • lorloff  on  12/30/2012 at 10:51 PM

    Dear all. I am not sure this is on point bus I suspect so. I too struggle to cull books but am seldom very successful especially with indexed books. Wouldn't It be great if those who want to call could post a list of what they want to cut out of their collection and another member could buy it. On a related Susie I have Gourmet, Bon Appetite, eating well, cooks illustrated and fine cooking either from the first issue or back to the eighties. How far back are indexers planning to go and does anyone have suggestions on who may want the older parts of the collection that may never be indexed. I do have hard copy indexes for gourmet, food and wine and Bon appetite.

  • Jane  on  12/31/2012 at 2:56 PM

    lorloff - we will work our way back through archive editions of magazines, in the same way that we index older cookbooks if enough members own them. So hold on to those older issues if you have space for them. We would love to set up a cookbook exchange service but it's not high on our development list right now.

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