[books] How many books, and which ones?

Yesterday in comments, discussing my library card expedition, [info]rekre8 said:

but…but…how do you then STORE all the books? My library is about 5,000 books large (I know intimately, as I’ve been in the midst of a move), and I re-read constantly, and I use the library for items I’ll only read once or before I buy something from an author to see if I’ll like it, simply because one does not have the SPACE.

To which I responded:

I’ve probably owned 15,000 or 20,000 books in my lifetime. There have been three major culls starting in the year 2000, and I am now down to rather less than 5,000 in my house. But I have a pretty big basement. Space isn’t really the issue. (Two of the three culls were connected to relocation and not wanting to move hundreds of pounds of books.)

My current standard for keeping books is (a) will I ever want to re-read this, (b) will I ever want my daughter or some other person interested in SF to read this (presumably classic), (c) will I ever want to loan/give this book to someone because I love it so much I think they should read it.

Well, and there some books I think a person should just have, my own version of the science fiction essentials.

Which leads me to a few questions for you guys reading this.

1) How many books do you own?

2) Is there a reason (space, personal philosophy, funding) that your collection is the size it is?

3) Why do you keep the books you keep? (Bibliomania is a perfectly acceptable answer insofar as I’m concerned.)

4) What books do you consider essential?

I already more-or-less answered 1-3. Here’s a very incomplete answer to 4), for me, presented in no particular order.

  • Dune, the first three books, specifically
  • The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings
  • The Moon is a Harsh Mistress along with selected other Heinlein (nothing from Number of the Beast forward)
  • Bujold’s Vorkosigan books
  • Discworld (all of it)
  • Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun and Fifth Head of Cerberus
  • Anything from Delaney’s early career
  • The Left Hand of Darkness
  • Hal Duncan’s Vellum and Ink
  • Jeff VanderMeer’s City of Saints and Madmen
  • Jo Walton’s Among Others
  • Robin Hobb’s Assassin books

That list is grossly inadequate, even from my own reading experience, let alone all the books I haven’t read. On cursory examination, I also note that this list is thin on recent or contemporary work, thin on women writers, and thin on writers of color. You can almost chart when I grew up by the titles on it.

What do you say?

9 thoughts on “[books] How many books, and which ones?

  1. JD says:

    1. About 1000 at last count (recently culled many).

    2. Collection would be bigger, but funding is an issue (as well as my wife’s limitations placed on space occupied by books relative to the size of our apartment).

    3. I keep the books that there’s any chance I will want to read again, or that I want my (currently only planned/hypothetical) children to read in the future.

    4. Fiction (terribly incomplete list):
    -Heinlein’s Moon is a Harsh Mistress and Stranger in a Strange Land (my first ever sci-fi read)
    -The Foundation Trilogy
    -The Culture novels by Iain Banks
    -Bas-Lag novels by China Mieville
    -Ender’s Game, Songmaster, Wyrms, Treason, and the Worthing Saga by Orson Scott Card (despite my refusal to buy anything of his anymore)
    -Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit
    -Hitchhiker’s Guide saga by Douglas Adams
    -A Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin
    -More recent pleasures are anything by Joe Abercrombie, Patrick Rothfuss, and Scott Lynch
    -Of course anything by Jay Lake (my favorite is Trial of Flowers)

    Nonfiction (just a few selections):
    -Band of Brothers and Undaunted Courage by S. Ambrose
    -Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by W. Shirer
    -Grand Design by Hawking and that other guy
    -Anything by Richard Dawkins
    -Anything by Christopher Hitchens

  2. Nancy says:

    I’m a slacker. I have only 250 (or so) cookbooks and about 150 food history/critique volumes. I tried to cull the other day and came up with three volumes I could live without. And two of them were more pamphlets than books.
    And then there’s the Four Feet of Fiction, my “too be read” pile. Can’t cull that, I don’t want to toss something I thought I wanted to read. No matter how dusty it is.

  3. Cate says:

    Oh, to have room for 5000 books! I am jealous.

    I probably have around 300 or so, and due to space limitations, I have to be pretty ruthless about culling regularly. This means that the cookbooks, writing reference books, knitting reference books, cello/music reference books, fiction, and non-fiction books all have to come under regular scrutiny. A painful process.

    My reasons for keeping books range from I love the content so much that I know I will re-read it or use it regularly, I learned something I consider important from the content (this could be about the topic, or how it was written), it comforted me when I was particularly in need of it, it gave me inspiration to want to to do something, it has sentimental value for whatever reason.

    As for which are essential, that’s a thinker. I’m going to have to study my collection and see what that might be.

  4. teflaime says:

    1) ~ 1400. I’m actually expecting to do a bit of a cull here.

    2) Primarily space. Secondarily, change of taste as I age.

    3) I keep books that I go back to time and again.

    4)
    – Heinlein – The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, Starship Troopers, For Us The Living
    Brust – Cowboy Feng’s Space Bar and Grill (which he hates), To Reign in Hell, the Vlad Taltos novels (despite the fact that I hated Teckla).
    McCaffrey – the first 3 Dragonrider novels, The Crystal Singer novels
    Rothfuss – The Name of the Wind, The Wise Man’s Fear
    Rowling – Harry Potter – even though I felt the last 3 novels were a step down.
    Richard K Morgan – the Takeshi Kovaks novels
    Scalzi – Old Man’s War
    Steakly – Armor
    Brin – The Practice Effect
    Zelazny – The Doors of His Face, the Lamps of His Mouth
    Foster – Returning My Sister’s Face
    McKillip – The Forgotten Beasts of Eld, The Riddle Master series

    & many others that I don’t have time to list.

  5. Matt H says:

    1) How many books do you own?

    I estimate between 300 to 400

    2) Is there a reason (space, personal philosophy, funding) that your collection is the size it is?

    A few reasons. First, I tend to do my leisure reading slowly, not because I can’t speed read but because I enjoy taking my time digesting the information being given. Second, because I typically only do about 1 to 2 hours of leisure reading per day. Third, over the past four or five years a lot of my reading has transitioned to shorter-length material (mags, blogs, short stories, etc), either because (for fiction) the length better fits the time I have available or because (for non-fiction) the length results in a greater likelihood that the material will have the exact information I’m looking for without having to slog through too much depth to access it. As a result of these factors, my physical library grows at a slow but steady pace, reflected in my total book count.

    3) Why do you keep the books you keep? (Bibliomania is a perfectly acceptable answer insofar as I’m concerned.)

    Aside from some textbooks, I have not done any culling, and I’ve referred back to, or reread, the majority of my library.

    4) What books do you consider essential?

    In the context this question was presented it appears to be a genre question, which puts me at a disadvantage because I would say 75% of my reading is non-fiction and therefore most of my “essential” books pertain only to my various interests and pursuits. With that in mind, the books I most often recommend to people looking to get into SF/F are:

    F:
    The Hobbit/LoTR (I’m always surprised how many people haven’t read these)
    GRRM’s Song of Ice and Fire
    Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time
    Erikson/Esslemont’s Malazan Empire

    SF:
    Peter Hamilton’s Night’s Dawn Trilogy (or if you can only read one book, Fallen Dragon)
    Jack McDevitt’s Alex Benedict series
    Paulo Bacigalupi’s Windup Girl (though not a classic, I find it get’s a good response when I recommend to readers who don’t typically read the genre)
    Frank Herbert’s Dune (although, I find I don’t often recommend it, since nearly all SF readers have already read it, and non-SF readers tend to get overwhelmed by the technical aspects of the story/setting)

    For brownie points:
    I have also recommended the Mainspring series on several occasions and gotten largely positive feedback.

  6. teflaime says:

    Round 2 for question #4-

    Lee – The White Witch
    Nortan – Quag Keep
    Maxwell – The Fire Dancer series (incomplete though it is)
    Dickson – Wolfling, the Dorsai books
    Haldeman – The Forever War
    Kress – Beggers in Spain
    Harrison – The first 4 Stainless Steel Rat books, Make Room, Make Room!
    Cline – Ready Player One!

  7. gottacook says:

    My essentials that meet your (a), (b), and (c) criteria are pretty much the same as my responses to the still-ongoing Locus poll; because I still have dozens of mass-market paperback anthologies from the early 1970s, a lot of the shorter works listed are ones I first read in such collections:
    Bester, The Stars My Destination
    Clarke, Childhood’s End
    Benford, Timescape
    Heinlein, Citizen of the Galaxy
    Schmitz, The Witches of Karres
    Dick, Now Wait for Last Year
    Niven, Ringworld
    Vance, To Live Forever (aka Clarges)
    Stephenson, Snow Crash
    Kube-McDowell, Alternities
    Ian MacLeod, The Summer Isles (novella version)
    Keyes, Flowers for Algernon (novella version)
    Russell, …And Then There Were None
    Spinrad, The Lost Continent
    Vance, Rumfuddle
    Gerald Jonas, The Shaker Revival
    Bester, 5,271,009
    Niven, The Fourth Profession
    Varley, Press Enter []
    Allen Kim Lang, Cinderella Story
    Dick, Faith of Our Fathers
    Kornbluth, Shark Ship
    Kornbluth, That Share of Glory
    Vance, Assault on a City
    Bester, Time Is the Traitor
    Blish, A Work of Art
    Dick, Second Variety
    Heinlein, “All You Zombies–”
    Kornbluth, Gomez
    Clarke, The Sentinel
    Shaw, Light of Other Days
    Wilma Shore, Goodbye Amanda Jean
    Bester, The Four-Hour Fugue
    Sheckley, Specialist
    George P. Elliott, Sandra
    Sturgeon, Hurricane Trio
    Lafferty, The World as Will and Wallpaper

  8. Cora says:

    1) How many books do you own?

    At the moment, I own 1267 print books of English language fiction (gonna be 1268 come tomorrow, because Amazon just sent me a “we shipped your book” mail), a couple of hundred non-fiction and reference books in either language, approx. 200 to 300 German language fiction, mostly children’s books, books by writer friends and the occasional book translated from a language other than English, maybe 50 to 100 e-books as well as a big pile of comics and archived magazines (genre and collector’s mags)

    2) Is there a reason (space, personal philosophy, funding) that your collection is the size it is?

    I love books and when something catches my fancy I buy it. Theoretically, the house is big enough for many books, though I need more bookcases.

    3) Why do you keep the books you keep? (Bibliomania is a perfectly acceptable answer insofar as I’m concerned.)

    Uhm, bibliomania. I do occasionally get rid of duplicates and German language books, but I never give any of my English language books away. They were so difficult to come by, particularly in pre-Internet and pre-Amazon times that I just cannot give them away. Plus, I just know that the book I give away now is one I’ll need to look up something a few months from now and then I’ll have to find it again.

    4) What books do you consider essential?

    My references books and dictionaries.
    All of Isaac Asimov
    All of Thomas Pynchon
    All of Jane Austen
    All of William Shakespeare
    Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan series
    The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers
    Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
    The Leandros Brothers series by Rob Thurman
    The Enchanted Inc. series by Shanna Swendson
    One Night Stand by Julie Cohen
    The Red Riding Quartet by David Peace
    The Weather Wardens series by Rachel Caine
    The In Death series by J.D. Robb
    The Deathstalker series by Simon R. Green – oh, make that all of Green
    The novelisations of the original Star Wars trilogy. Not because I’ll ever read them again, but because they meant so much to me as a teenager

  9. Between my wife and I, about 7500 books.

    Where do we keep them all? Hint: our two-car garage has no cars and a lot of bookshelves.

    Both of us started reading early (about six years old), both of us started accumulating books as soon as we were adults, and we’re both in our sixties. Things add up.

    We need to do a serious culling. If nothing else, to make the job easier for when we need to move into assisted living or our son has to deal with our estate.

    We went thru the paperback romances a few years ago and cut out about two-thirds of them. There’s a lot more stuff we know we’ll never re-read, and eventually that will get culled as well.

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