Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Too many books?


For the first time in my life I'm starting to question whether or not I need to buy any more natural history books. Or at least, if I do buy them, where are they going to go? We have two large alcoves fitted with bookshelves in our sitting room. There is floor to ceiling shelving along our upstairs landing. We have a book case in one of the bedrooms. Most of these are stuffed with natural history books. My books. There is no more room. Everybody else's books have to fight for space under beds, in boxes or stacked along window sills. I don't know how the natural history books took over, but they have. I'm a little ashamed...


Any regular visitor to this blog will know that I keep lists. Needless to say, I have a list of my natural history books. It is even broken down into subjects. No, really. Would you like to see? Birds (151), Lepidoptera (51), Natural History Literature (26), Fungi (5), Botany (60), Insects (28), Mosses (6), Orthoptera (4), Dragonflies (7) and Miscellaneous (26). That's 364 in total. This is not taking into account the hundreds of pamphlets, leaflets, booklets and reports that I also have. And, here's the irony - I reckon that over 300 of them hardly get looked at at all. Some of them never. So why did I buy them? Well, they all seemed like a wise purchase at the time. Some of them (like the Helm/Poysers, Surrey Wildlife Trust or BWPs) became collectable because they were from a certain publisher or part of a set. If the house burned down, how many of them would I definitely replace? Possibly 20.


The majority of my natural history purchases are now what could be termed as 'literature or writing', publications that are not so much field guides or species/family monographs, more works of art that explore the relationship that we as humans have with the wildlife around us. But they still take up space. And I'm still drawn like a moth to a flame to a book shop. Every single one that I pass. I still get a thrill from a purchase. To sit down with a new book, open the pages for the first time, smell the ink, be thrilled by the images and inspired by the words - it's almost as good a feeling as I get from being out in the field itself.

More shelving? Bigger house? Or fewer books? If this is my only problem in life then things cannot be going all that badly, can they? A few years ago I had a cull. I wish I hadn't. Maybe 25-30 books got shown the door, mainly from my early days, books that would have quite a bit of nostalgic value now. I will not make that mistake again.

16 comments:

  1. Well I have a similar number of books to you, not counting all the paperbacks that I've given away. The difference however, is that my books cover a wide range of subjects and as well as some natural history books there are a lot of autobiographies (my favourite reading), thrillers, etc.etc.
    Clearly, having read such a huge number of natural history books you must be an undoubted expert on all things wildlife. How you find the courage to get rid of any gawd only knows but one things for sure - you shouldn't buy any more. Total up all the purchase costs, that'll shock you.

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    1. Derek, I have a confession to make... there are almost as many non natural history titles as well! I didn't mention them. And no. Reading that lot have made me no expert.

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  2. Well it's been an expensive way of staying Mr. Average then.

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  3. I have a large number that need to go to Oxfam. I don't have room in my little flat.

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    1. At least somebody else will get the use of them Simon.

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  4. I noticed Jeremy Early's Soldierfly book up there – good man!

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    1. Those Surrey Wildlife Trust books are brilliant Neil. Shame their reserves aren't.

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    2. They are a bugger to produce though, as I discovered with the Soldierfly one. A lot of work, with little scope on the design front. Times New Roman lives on!

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  5. Why on earth is your Stace and the orchid book amongst bird books? The beach-combing one is in entirely the wrong place too. Why aren't the Surrey Atlases in chronological order? And don't even get me started on the shambles that is your Helm Guides! Surely I can't be the only OCD book-stacker-er???

    Aaaaaggghhh - I've just noticed the fish book!!! Too much, get a grip man!!! :D

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    1. All equal height Seth. Not in subject order. And yes, sometimes it takes me a while to find a specific book.

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  6. Steve, oh dear, I know exactly where your coming from, and I think I can help. First off you have to move house, drastic I know, but when we moved down here 10 years ago I had my first book cull, it wasn't easy though. Like you we have books stashed everywhere and two year ago we had another clear out as the cottage was becoming like a library. Obviously there are treasured tomes you have to hang on to, but out went 40 odd years of bird reports, BB`s, Birding Worlds and the like, closely followed by loads of those general photographic bird books that were collected back in the day. The result is that I`m now down to two nat hist book cases, well sort of, not counting another out in the summer house, which I`m not...if you see what I mean. I have managed to stop buying Helm guides though, but like you I`m a fan of nat lit books(my current favourite is anything by Robert Macfarlane)which I tend to pass around. As Derek suggested the cost of all these books would probably add up to a round trip to Antarctica, taking in South Georgia and the Falklands as well! Probably best not to think about that though...so, good luck with the cull and be brutal...

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    1. Maybe I need to hire you as my life coach Paul. Mate's rates?

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  7. I know exactly what you mean, I have hundreds of books and there's more all the time. What to do? When you figure it out let me know :)

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    1. Unless you find the answer first Martin!

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  8. Ah Steve, you've beaten me to the post - I was saving bookshelfies for a quiet week later this month! I've reached a stage where I have run out of space altogether for my books - in addition to the scores of natural history titles there are, literally, thousands of novels. I'm not sure I should be proud of this, but... I have every single book I've ever owned, including my childhood ones, all crammed into the house. I'm a compulsive reader - usually a couple of works of fiction a week, plus the non-fiction browsing.

    It's reached the point where there's not a room in the house that doesn't have a bookcase or two. The study has four walls lined with books. I find myself seriously contemplating an extension with another room specifically to take the overflow and the next couple of decades' acquisitions.

    I think I may have a problem!

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    1. Not a problem Jon, just a commendable love for the written word. Long may you continue to enjoy it!

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