The Book Keeping Test


When I was a child I believed that all books had to be read to the end. I’m surprised that this determination to plough on with, say, ‘Travels on a Donkey’ didn’t put me off reading for life.

Now I keep a living library built on a one-out-one-in basis because I don’t have room for books that won’t be at least riffled through a second time. During Lockdown, though, I’ve raised my game, lowered my tolerance bar and begun serious binning (ie shipping out to charity shops), dumping anything that fails my Book Keeping Test.

The Six Question Book Keeping Test

  1. Is it treasurable?
  2. Will I go back to it?
  3. Does it make me interested in the subject/writer?
  4. Does it make me want to read sections aloud?
  5. Is there something that won’t let me say goodbye to it?
  6. Is it a guilty pleasure?

I have not regretted binning any of the books that were weeded out, although I prevaricate sometimes. For example, I have bought/binned ‘Shadow of the Wind’ three times and failed to finish it each time.

One caveat: I buy a lot of books on Kindle for the purposes of disposable reading. These are books I pick for life’s boring tasks, standing in queues, sitting in waiting rooms or dropping as I fall asleep on trains. And if I come across a gem I’ll also buy it in paperback. Kindle as a vetting system. I guess everyone has different criteria for the saving of books. What’s yours?

Pictured above, yet another peculiar little library in our flat, this one built into the end of a clothing cupboard.

47 comments on “The Book Keeping Test”

  1. Wayne Mook says:

    I notice you don’t lay books on top of books on your shelf, I’m afraid I do and some shelves are ‘double parked’.

    I used to put books in boxes so I didn’t have to throw them out, still there are stacks that need dealing with. I’m now harder and about 300 books left in the past 12 months, some with a guilty tear. If I want to read some I can kindle them, although a number of the older story collections will never appear I know, but still the space is needed. There is a bag of about 20 odd books due to go to charity but to be honest it’s a small dent. I still have VHS tapes and 2 working players.

    Two rules for books I’ve read, Will I read it again? (Unless it has deep sentimental links such a ‘special’ present or it just looks wonderful, aesthetics matter, I will get some books out just to look at them. I’ll even buy a book because of it’s cover.) Is there shelf room? If not it goes. The is there room on a shelf only applies to marginal cases, if I start umming and arring about it.

    For unread books it’s the same except the main question is, Will I read it?

    Apropos of nothing, the Sedgeway 2 wheeler, the one you stand up on to use, looks like being no more but about one of the companies owners who died I just love the inquest reason for his death as reported on the BBC, ‘The inquest into Mr Heselden’s death heard that he died due to an “act of courtesy” as he tried to make way for a dog walker.’


  2. Cornelia Appleyard says:

    It took me many years to realise that if I wasn’t enjoying a book, I didn’t have to finish it. I blame school for that.
    If I don’t think I’m going to read it again, it goes to the charity shop. Having said that, I sometimes come out with more than I took in.

  3. Dave Young says:

    As a very basic rule of thumb fiction once read goes, usually to the Red Cross bookshop (how I ‘justify’ sometimes using Amazon) and non-fiction stays. Until one moves house…

    Exceptions include the unusual: Delacorta’s ‘Diva’ series, ditto Simone Buchhloz, the latter’s German female detective very much recommended. Both translations.

    Also hard to gets: Playwright David Pownall’s early fiction ‘The Raining Tree War’ and ‘African Horse’ – careful, very much of their time, but original and hilarious, and Antoine de St Exupery’s novels for grown ups.

    Kindle is a clever way to avoid the social shame of MOR fiction on your bookshelf. Not that I’d know, obviously…

  4. SteveB says:

    I’ve been though something of the same. I keep what gives me happiness and doesn’t exist as a ebook. If an ebook exists, very few things I keep as a real book – my B and M books!!!, signed Foundation trilogy first edition first state, things like that, that i can really the feeling of a real book.
    The other things I keep are some factual books, where I find I need to keep my fingers in several places, which I dont have the skillset to do with ebooks.

  5. SteveB says:

    @Dave Young, yes, David Pownall. Good choice!

  6. Peter T says:

    I might go as far as:

    If I have more than one copy?
    If they have exactly the same content?
    Thhen the less attractive copy might qualify for a trip to Oxfam.

  7. Andrew Holme says:

    An old college friend’s Dad used to purchase complete sets of Golden Age Crime novelists’ books when new covers were issued, and keep the old ones. I remember four different sets of Sayers and Christie. Three different sets of Chandler and Hammett. Madness. However, I find I have three copies of Churchill’s ‘My Early Life’, the Mandarin copy, a copy with Simon Ward on the cover, and an early wartime edition. I cannot lose any of them. I also have four copies of ‘The Rachel Papers’, including a 1st edition, and cannot bear to part, even though I don’t really like the book now, and will never read it again.

  8. Liz Thompson says:

    Peter T, I sympathise. I have multiple copies, including Folio Society, of Ursula le Guin’s novels. Battered ones, pristine ones (Thanks to Folio’s book sleeves). My daughter keeps telling me I have to stop BUYING books. I’m not entirely sure what she thinks makes life worth living. Admittedly, the piles of books on the living room floor have a tendency to topple over if touched, and our book shelves are, in some case, perpendicular, horizontal, and triple depth stacked.
    Ordinary murder mysteries, poetry I didn’t take to, non fiction I didn’t understand after three attempts or with whose argument/theory/premise I violently disagreed, all go to We Buy Books, Music Magpie,or friends who might like or understand them. I have been known, on odd occasions, to hurl a book across the room in fury at some idiocy, non fiction, of course. The unreadable fiction is just recycled with a faint shudder.

  9. Brooke says:

    Imelda Marcos Collection Guidelines for Keep/Out
    1. Age Appropriate? Keep B&M series + vintage Dior, YSL, Ferragamo, etc.
    2. Helpful During Economic Depression? Keep household manuals + wool, twill, khaki trousers, no-iron shirts.
    3. Valuable? Recycle 1st edition black authors, art books to Uncle Bobbie’s Bookstore + recycle silk, toile, etc. for holiday gifts.
    4. Must keep! Edna Lewis cookbooks, rare finds no longer in print + cashmere/merino sweaters, socks and scarves.

    All else goes.

  10. Derek J Lewis says:

    On a similar track. I notice Goldsboro are offering signed copies of Oranges and Lemons. I like the company but they have very slow delivery times. Have you signed copies for a y other booksellers Mr. Fowler?

  11. admin says:

    I’m not sure I’ve signed for Goldsboro yet, Derek! I can’t remember doing so but then that would have been before the Apocalypse.
    Brooke, you raised a good point – rarity of volume. ‘My ‘Tiny Time in the Land of the Giants’ is extremely rare and utterly offensive, with its hateful depictions of sinister money-grabbing giants in yarmulkes(!) but I cannot let it go because…rare.

  12. mike says:

    As an avid book collector it takes me several weeks deep thought and an heroic act before I can part with one.
    I’ve got Oranges & Lemons and several others on order from Goldsbro and having difficulty in being patient.
    Waiting times are even longer because of the current problems.

  13. Jan says:

    See I never understood/got books like this Chris. Dunno if it’s a class or age thing but I have always read books from the library and that’s where i go back to. I have never felt the need, or want or desire to own a book. I don’t get it much why folk DO want to own a book like that.

    Saying that I have got loads of Rupert Bear annuals – but they were Xmas presents!

    There’s bits I will always remember in books in”The Once and Future King” early on in the story T.H.White describes Guinevere describes her essential nature and that’s always stuck with me. I have found this book in the library and ‘re read this passage a few times I need not own it to get to it.

    Conversely I can remember when Lancashire County Council (now run by the City of Salford)first built Irlam Library we were all proper proud of the place. Was a real sign of what I thought was civic pride and prosperity. I were only about 9 mind! No I ain’t a great believer in book ownership.

  14. Brooke says:

    Mr. Fowler: rarity of volume–file under guilty pleasures and/or something that won’t let me go. But remember, what if you’re not around to defend your choice. Friend just discovered old portrait he bought for the beautiful hand-carved frame and hung on dining room wall is a portrait of Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederate States (authenticated).
    Keep and let horrified children collect value?

  15. Cornelia Appleyard says:

    I love libraries as well, Jan.
    Not being able to return my overdue books during lockdown has made me uncomfortable – OK, I have renewed them online, but I haven’t gone 3 months without changing my library books for as long as I can remember.
    The first thing I did when the latest lockdown changes were announced was look to see when the library would be open.

  16. Frances says:

    Just before lockdown I donated about 300 books to a charity. This still left me with three walls of a small study lined with double rows of books.

    There are collections by (non-fiction) topic which I want to keep. Not sure if I will read them again but I like to know they are there.
    There are many books I have not yet read. These encourage me to think that I have enough future left to get around to them.
    There are books which have a sentimental attachment – gifts, signed copies, books about family members or written by them.
    There is one small bookcase in my bedroom which holds the books I really love and could not bear to part with.

    Kindle is for light reading. Although I just downloaded Bleak House. My grandfather never read any author except Dickens. He said everything was in his books and there was no need to go further afield.

  17. Helen Martin says:

    My first resort is the library, partly to prevent the temptation to add to the great wall of shame that is the background to our many Zoom meetings, and partly to avoid spending money I will regret. (The Anarchy goes back to the library as soon as I can organize myself. (You return through the night slot, order new ones on line and pick up by appointment at the curb).
    I’m waiting for Oranges and Lemons and a massive history of the Thames which should keep the husband quiet for a few days.
    I have difficulty in disposing of books although I’m getting better. Once we can physically meet up again I intend to refuse to take the leftover books from our BookCrossing gatherings because I end up with bags of ones none of us want to read. I am trying to free myself from the inability to actually throw into the garbage unreadable books (most of Arthur’s titles for example).

    Is it useful? (That would include outdated maps, and railway timetables from the fifties but not old cookbooks which go to the genealogical society)

    Will I read it again? and that includes most pleasurable fiction. [Anyone else read The Long Flight Home by Alan Hlad about the homing pigeons of WWII?]

    Is it a horrible example? Sometimes you have to have a sample of the thing you despise. Right now I have something called Scotch Rising which is a self published book about an excise man in a fictional Scottish village in 1707. I may keep it for the appalling lack of editing – grammar, typing, mis-named characters – and may even order the sequel if it is available because the plot was interesting and the chief character is quite strange.

    Those are the only categories I would add to those already suggested.
    Is there an unbreakable personal tie? I am trying to narrow this down.

  18. Brooke says:

    Useful category: Is it a horrible example? But you can’t keep it, no no. Recyle to publisher. That”ll learn um.

  19. Jan says:

    They have decided to waive all fines incurred during lockdown Cornelia! I was starting to wonder if all my (pitiful) earnings were gonna go in paying library fines incurred because my HOTMAIL account stopped working mid March and I cannot renew via e mail any longer. Also cos no one is actually in Bridport library I cannot ring my library buddies and get them to renew for me which they do normally. Losing your e mail account turns into a right to do I’m telling you.

    Will need to try and access this dopey account via library @ some point but not at all sure they will let us use the library computers any more because of the pesky virus.

  20. Jan says:

    Brooke very well put. They want learning them publishers!

  21. John Griffin says:

    Fiction:very limited retention (B & M, Conan Doyle, some collections, oddments like Dracula). Half read tends to be monumental non-fiction like Capital in the 21st Century, read and kept tends to be neuroscience or palaeontology. Off to the charity shop are 50% of cookbooks (many of them cheffy dross) and those I find to be bollocks. Kindle is a godsend for sorting out the rubbish cheaply, hence the rapid descent of the Grice tec novels to ‘can’ t be arsed’ status. Wifely one has OCD and can only open pristine books, magazines etc, nothing library or second hand and her bookshelves have a precise order (I daren’t tell her her Murakami are out of date order). She has a cursed book; in order to understand the enemy she bought the Robert Shepherd bio of Enoch (Jack) Powell. She got 25% through and collapsed with serious post viral CFS; three years later she started again, got to the same place, and was treated for breast cancer; a few years after she started again, emergency hysterectomy. Untouched since.

  22. Brian Evans says:

    Some years ago I got rid of all my paperback fiction as we were short of room. I would never re-read any of them so thought it a good idea to make space. A week later my partner won the weekly New Statesman competition. The prize? -£500 worth of Oxford University Classics.

    In the end, we bought a bigger house. Now all fiction is read on tablet. I never get rid of non-fiction which I still buy avidly. We have a dedicated library, and books lining another room, and book cases all along the landing and in the hall.

  23. snowy says:

    Portrait of Jefferson Davis? Unusual find I would have thought, [I’m in the UK so know less than nothing], an incompetent politician even more reviled in his lifetime than… you know who. Shame it’s not his older brother Joseph, utopian socialist of the Owen school, began experiments in social reform. Not a saint by any means, but not a complete sinner either. He helped turn his plantation into a worker owned collective, but bad weather and worse politics put paid to it. [And it’s just a single step from him to Benjamin Thornton Montgomery, and he is a really interesting chap].

    [The US Reconstruction Period was a complete blank spot for me, and after it came up last week, I had a gap to plug.]

    In these times of statue toppling, it raises the philosophical question if you cleanse the historical past what can you point to as evidence to convince any doubters. [If all evidence of a crime has been erased, how do you prove there was ever a crime? This is a rhetorical question and needs no answer here].

    If you find yourself with the twin bane of terrible books that need to be disposed of and a deluge of junk mail with reply paid envelopes, an answer suggests itself.

    *Strokes ‘White Cat of Evil’*

  24. John Howard says:

    I used to have only have one rule for keeping a book….. Do I want to read it again.
    When I moved abroad that rule got tweaked ever so slightly….. Do I REALLY want to read that again.
    Luckily my reading style developed pretty early on where it allowed for immersion in whatever particular world I am delving into between those covers but it also allowed me to not bother to store in my memory many of the things going on so I can return later for another enjoyable read. Sometimes 20 years later.
    Admittedly that means that there are two rooms with books in but they are both out of line of sight of the wife so she is happy….

  25. Peter T says:

    I don’t think that I have any rare books. I have a lot of textbooks – a compensation for ignorance. Some of them were expensive when new. Later, they went out of print and became much more expensive. Now, they’re mainly out of date, forgotten by the world, and overtaken by the availablility of information from the net. In money terms, such old books are worthless.

    Of course, worthless is also an opportunity: I can afford more secondhand!

  26. Andrew Holme says:

    I think Frances has a really valid point, ” …I like to know they are there.” It’s comforting when mooching through the thousands of books in our many rooms to come across old friends. Oh good, you’re still here. Haven’t seen you for a bit. Keeping well? Let’s take you out and have a look. One hour later, engrossed.

  27. Cornelia Appleyard says:

    Jan – I know I won’t have to pay a fine, but it still feels wrong.

    It will be interesting to see how reopening works – somebody will probably decide that we can’t touch the books. Perhaps a sort of click and collect where we reserve online and collect when ready will work. Doesn’t your library have an online account you can use to renew books?

  28. Brooke says:

    @snowy. Yes. unusual, hence value. Interesting brother; will tell friend.
    Re: “reconstruction.” We’re now in 4th Reconstruction. Because we conflate thorny economic, political, social issues into one meme “race,” it’s hard to understand each reconstruction period. Oxford U Press publishes a “Very Short Introduction” covering latest scholarly thinking on 1st reconstruction, deep dive reconstruction histories, as well as documentation of 1921 Tulsa riots (which DT says never happened).


  29. Paul says:

    Another one with a life long book fetish and an order in with Goldsboro for Oranges and Lemons, most of Admin’s books have been signed and my OCD will kick in if I end up with an unsigned one now!
    Hopefully some brisk signing will be good recouperation exercise……no pressure.
    I think things have got a bit out of hand here as I am in the process of getting 10 square meters of bookshelves installed

  30. Ian Luck says:

    I have the terrible habit of re-reading books. If I buy new books, then some I know will be read again, and others, read once, and then passed on to a work colleague, with the caveat that he passes it on to a friend, or drops it into the seamen’s centre (they always go, but I do wonder what some of those guys think of those books). Books that definitely stay are your B&M ones, The ‘Rivers Of London’ series, and the ‘Vinyl Detective’ books. I’d keep Mick Herron’s ‘Slow Horses’ series, but several people pester me for them. All my classics stay, but usually at the end of each month, I have a bin bag full of books. Which I take to work. And return without.

  31. Jan says:

    That would make real sense Cornelia it’s touching the surfaces and not selecting the book that will be the problem.

    It’s that bit today! I’ve been over at Charmouth playing goals and was going to go for a swim after the game but the beach is chock a block of numpties and I decided not to join them.

  32. Jan says:

    HOT I should only post whilst wearing specs!
    Hope u r ok today Mr F.

  33. Jan says:


  34. Helen Martin says:

    Did you know that many elementary teachers don’t read for pleasure? When I was still working I used to try to give books away at work to very little avail.
    Our library extended everyone’s due date to somewhere in July. I’m still not going anywhere I don’t have to so I’ll have to make a point of taking then back soon.

  35. Wim says:

    I don’t reread books, only P.G.Wodehouse. Just keep your books. Our living room looks like a library and is very cosy.

  36. Dawn Andrews says:

    Also live in a library of old loves,. P G Wodehouse never fades, Rivers of London is addictive, something in the ink maybe, just looking at all the media images of packed beaches is really scary!

  37. Jo W says:

    Hello Christopher, hope you and yours are continuing in your recuperation? Please, not the turn out of books again. I did one in early March and filled a large box to take to a charity shop. Guess what? They’re still under the dining table where they were shoved out of sight (just for a couple of weeks,,of course.) If this pestilence doesn’r ease soon,I think that box may be opened again……..

    #Helen Martin, which book about the Thames is your husband waiting for? ‘Im indoors has a Thames history book, also huge and dangerous to read in bed, due to dozing off and braining himself! As I said, that’s one way to get knowledge into your head.
    Keep well and stay safe all.

  38. Ian Luck says:

    I don’t have a copy of ‘1984’. I was reading it at work, many years ago, and a truck came in, driven by a Russian bloke I knew quite well, to go on the ferry. As I booked him in, he noticed the book on my desk, and said:
    “Is it any good? We were never allowed to even own a copy when I was younger.”
    I immediately gave him the book – I’d read it many times.

  39. Liz Thompson says:

    Ian, you’re a star!

  40. Terenzio says:

    There’s an article in the New York Times on removing statues from public places well worth reading. An example of trying to erase history or rewrite it is how southerners are taught that the Civil War had nothing to do with slavery. Or when people try to deny the holocaust happened. Removing a statue of a slave trader in Bristol or a confederate general in the US won’t change history. Statues, monuments and even films can have a powerful impact. In some cases, harmful. Take for example President Woodrow Wilson showing the film Birth of a Nation in the White House. It helped revive a faltering KKK.

    “Clayton Wickham, 28, said he used to think of the statue of his great-great-great-grandfather as ‘just a statue that had my name on it that was kind of cool to walk by every now and then.’”

    “But as Mr. Wickham learned more about his ancestor, the statue became a source of discomfort, and then of shame.”

    “And so when protesters in Richmond, Va., recently tore down the bronze statue of Williams Carter Wickham, a Confederate general and plantation owner, Mr. Wickham was glad to see it fall…”

  41. Helen Martin says:

    Jo, the book we’re awaiting is Peter Ackroyd’s Thames: Sacred River. I have a feeling Ken may risk the same method of learning as ‘im indoors so I shall warn him about reading it in bed. Hope he and all are well.

  42. Jo W says:

    Helen, the book Alan has is The Royal River, The Thames from Source to Sea. It was published in 1985 by Bloomsbury books.
    One feature of it is some wonderful old ink drawings for illustration. Not a glossy photograph in sight.
    Stay safe,both of you.

  43. Helen Martin says:

    Jo, I looked that one up in the provincial catalogue and no one in B.C. has a copy so Ill have to hope that Mr. Ackroyd is as good as I’m led to believe.

  44. Ian Luck says:

    Helen – Peter Ackroyd is a wonderful writer. His fiction is great, and his non-fiction is even better. He wrote a delightful little book entitled ‘London Under’, about underground London. It’s a two hour read at best, but full of information. ‘London: The Biography’ and ‘Albion’ are both big, full of ideas and superbly readable. I wouldn’t be without them. I envy you your first read of him.

  45. Ian Luck says:

    Brooke – I expect that were you to go into the Oval office, and nail one of the Great Fart’s hands to the desk, in front of dozens of witnesses, he would still state, vehemently, that it never happened. What there is of Donald Trump’s mind must be a scary place.

  46. Helen Turnage says:

    I have gone to the Buy Two-Get Rid of Two format. Mostly I just consider if a book is one I would reasonably go back to. Unfortunately I find I just don’t like reading on my phone or a device. That doesn’t help my wallet or shelf space.

  47. Helen Martin says:

    The Ackroyd book has arrived and the husband is enjoying it very much. He is reading it in little pieces, however, because it’s better that way apparently, so it will be some time before I get my hands on it.

Comments are closed.