- by Charlotte Hubbard

As you read this, I’ll be up the ladder painting my office. That means I spent the past couple of days boxing up BOOKS–boxes and boxes of BOOKS. And because we’re looking to downsize to a condo next year, I face the question of what to pitch and what to keep.

What books can you not live without?? What are your absolute keepers?

I ran across one in the closet that ranks as the Keeper of all Keepers because it’s my biography, as written by my niece for a sophomore English project. The front matter is on purple paper, the main book is on neon pink, and the photos at the end are on turquoise–along with a page called About the Author, where Chris put her own mug shot and blurb, just as she’s seen in the backs of my books. But the dedication page tells why I will never, ever pitch this book: “I would like to dedicate this book to my Aunt Charlotte. You have always been there for me, through the good times and the bad. Thank you for everything you have done for me.”

Chris leaves for college in two weeks. Of all her mom’s and dad’s families, only my sister and I have done that, which makes Chris a very special young lady. She lives halfway across the country–came to stay for a week or two each summer since she was seven–and I like to think that those weeks we shared influenced her decision to get an education and fly higher. And she values writing. Wants to be an English teacher.

Which means the time I spent NOT WRITING while she was here will be the most positive, productive time I’ve probably spent in my life as a writer. And now that Chris is moving on–and my husband and I are looking to move on–I have a different take on what’s worth hauling from this home to the next.

So what did I give up?

For starters, I donated my 1962 Americana Encyclopedias to the library. I was SO glad not to destroy them, as I’ve had them since fourth grade! You look smart just having these navy volumes with gilt lettering on your shelves! But Internet research has rendered them a lot of dead weight for me.

When the librarian said these could go into the annual fundraiser book sale, I found lots more stuff for her! I donated numerous National Geographic volumes about various places around the U.S.

Remember when anything “National Geographic” was considered sacred?

I also gave her 20 years of autographed paperbacks–you know, the kind you buy at mass autographings and then never get around to reading? Yes, some are by writer friends…and some I looked at and said, “Who the heck was THAT?” The librarian’s putting those on the special table, so maybe the library will get some nice bucks from those.

And my TBR pile? Cleared out a whole corner of my office! Kept maybe a dozen. Several were freebies I hauled home from conventions, so the librarian was ecstatic about getting so many books that are pristine, and they’ll go into the collection rather than the sale.

What does this all mean? I’m thinking my local library will benefit a LOT more from these books than the paltry amount I’d have gotten at a garage sale. I’ll have a lot less to pack when we move: I’ve done my part for this downsizing project! And it’s been an interesting exercise in how priorities change, and how my relationship to my books and possessions has changed.

But it was also great to pick up Chris’s biography again, and smile at her perceptions of Aunt Charlotte the author. Priceless, that kid is. A real keeper!


  1. Dead on, Charlotte. Every once in a while, if we’re lucky, we get a chance to make a positive impression on a young person and then have the delight of watching them grow and blossom. Props!
    As to winnowing your book collection, now that you’re in practice, would you like to take a little trip to California and help me do the same? I’ve recently had to resort (cringe) to double-shelving, so something definitely has to go!
    (What?! Did I hear some craven soul in the background whisper, “You could stop buying so many.”? Humph. Blasphemy! But you may be right about the encyclopedias…)

  2. Aww, Charlotte, what a wonderful niece you have :)
    I have two sisters who are much younger and I hope to influence their life in a positive way. They both love to read, and I buy the Brat (my 6yr old sis) books whenver I can, lol. I especially love sharing books with her that I used to read as a child.
    With my other sister, 11yrs old, I’ve recently started helping her write a story *bg*. She’s really getting into it and I think it helps us keep close as she lives in another state :)

    Ooh, as for your downsizing projects, congrats to you… I would not have been able to give up my books, lol… maybe later on, but not right now :)

  3. Hi, Judy! Long time no see! And Ali, it’s nice of you to join us here! Trust me, there was a time I couldn’t have parted with that set of Americanas…it was special because in an era where most kids worked from World Books, my folks believed I needed the more “advanced” encyclopedias because they already knew I was college-bound. Great looking set–still is.

    But it’s nice to know these books will find other homes with dedicated bibliophiles. And yeah–it means my shelves are clear to accumulate more! We never outgrow our reading habit, or the inclination to buy books “because I’ll use them for a story someday.”

    Now, back to my painting…I can tell you Kilz primer white is not my fave color or aroma!


  4. You’ve had those encyclopedias since the fourth grade???

    I have moved far too many times to be a pack rat or a saver. I once moved 9 times in 3 years. In 2003-2006 I moved 4 times: 2 long-distance, 2 international. (Yes, my email address is the most stable thing about my lifestyle.)

    So I pretty much only keep stuff that I use. My household rule: If I haven’t used something for two years, I get rid of it.

    But I do have a lot of books, of course. (Every friend or paid crew who has ever helped me move has complained about the boxes of books. And I just tell them: Stop whining–you ought to see how many books all the OTHER writers have!)

    But, unlike you Charlotte!, I have only a very small number of volumes from childhood, things of great sentimental value (ex. a copy of LITTLE WOMEN handed down for 3 generations in my family).

    Mostly, the books I keep (and keep regularly packing and moving and storing and unpacking) are the books I read, re-read, and love too much to give up; or books I use in my work; or books I intend to use in my work (I’ve got stacks of background reading here for various under-contract projects); or books I THINK I’m going to use in my work (I’ve got boxes of background-reading for prospective projects that I don’t yet know when I’ll write). Since I don’t have enough shelf space for all my books, and since I move too often to have a lot of furniture, I’ve learned to make endtables and hall tables and printer stands by stacking boxes of books and covering them in nice batiks.


  5. Sounds like your neice is a wonderful person.

  6. Hey Charlotte,
    We must be on the same wavelength. We painted our office last month. (not because we’re moving it was just time) I donated 8 storage boxes full of books to a local charity that has a huge book sale here every year. I thought I was done sorting, but have just discovered 4 more boxes in the shed. I hate saying goodbye to so many friends, but I hope all those books will find homes where they might actually make it off the bookshelf some time. Have a great weekend.

  7. Gee, I seem to have struck a chord here! We all love our books, don’t we? We acquire them because they call our name–or they beg to have a story come out of the fascinating/unusual info they contain…or they help us escape into other worlds. I grew up as an only child, so books were my constant companions. Only because 20 years in this house has enabled me to accumulate 3,000 sq. feet of furnishings and STUFF am I realizing it’s time to donate, big-time!

  8. Just now resorting to double-shelving? That makes you a mere dabbler in book overflow, Judy.

    I’m down from about three-quarters being double-shelved to about half. I felt that was huge progress.

  9. I haven’t quite been able to part with my keepers yet. I have made the move out of my office and into storage. I know, I know. If they’re not at my fingertips, why bother. But some of those books I just can’t part with. I may have to rethink this when my box of books arrives from San Francisco.

    We’re still in the middle of renovations but my office is going to get my attention (a cleaning and a good coat of paint) in the fall!