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Why I’m Stocking My Bookshelf with Books I’ve Already Read

I visited the charity shop earlier in the week and was thrilled to find Hilary Mantel’s Bring Up the Bodies, the second in the Wolf Hall trilogy, on the shelves overflowing with pre-loved books.

I read the novel years ago, and very rarely re-read a book (especially one the length of Mantel’s tomes), but I wanted to round out the trilogy on my bookshelves.

Lately, I’ve found that it’s something I’ve done often. I scour charity shops to find books that I’ve loved but haven’t owned – I might have borrowed the book from someone, read it on my kindle or listened to it on audiobook.

I was thrilled to find Bring Up the Bodies, and others I have found have included Anna Funder’s All That I Am and Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend and I’m still looking for Melissa Lucashenko’s Too Much Lip and Hannah Kent’s The Good People.

There are a few reasons why I love collecting books I’ve read and loved for my bookcases:

  1. The first is that I like to be reminded of these books. I like to see all of the novels that I have read and that have been a source of joy in my life – sometimes I just scan the bookshelves for those little reminders of the characters and stories I remember so fondly. It is the little spark of joy that Marie Kondo wrote about, and a bit like looking back at old photos of when my children were younger. Each book holds the memory of an emotion, and a kind of nostalgia.
  2. Another reason is that I can’t wait until my children and nieces and nephews can explore the adult section of my bookcase, and find a similar joy. It might be quite some time coming, but I know they will eventually be curious about the books, and start to browse themselves.

I want them to be able to pluck One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, The Painted Veil by Somerset Maugham or We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver off the shelves and discover the secrets within.

To some degree, that has already begun. My 10-year-old has read The Best-Kept Secret by Emily Rodda – a book inscribed with words from my own grandmother decades ago. I’m looking forward to introducing him to The Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson, I Came Back to Show You I Could Fly by Robyn Klein and Tomorrow, When the War Began by John Marsden.

  1. The third reason I love to have all of my favourite books on my bookshelves, even if I never end up reading them again, is that I love it when my friends or family ask me for a recommendation. They’ve barely finished the sentence before I’m scouring the shelves, plucking out one book, reconsidering, choosing another, and repeating the cycle time and time again.

Recently, a friend asked me for some books for her grandmother, who is aged in her 90s. I know that this woman is not the kind to suffer fools, so I picked out some prizewinning or widely loved books that I hope she’ll enjoy – Brooklyn by Colm Toibin, Commonwealth by Ann Patchett and The Nightingale by Kristen Hannah.

The lockdowns have been a boon for my informal book borrowing service, and I’ve enjoyed seeing my books leave my shelves and return, looking a little bit more worn and, hopefully, a little bit more loved.

One of the great joys of reading is the opportunity to share the experience and my bookshelf provides me with the opportunity to spread the book love.

So, I’m off to the charity shop to see what familiar treasures I can find.

This Post Has 5 Comments
  1. I am with you Fleur. I have just re-read ‘The Constant Gardener’ which I found in a street library. I am a 74 year old retired public librarian and so many of the books I have enjoyed have been library books. Nevertheless I am unwilling to add the books that I do own to street libraries because I, like you, am reminded of the past pleasure of reading them and also of the time in my life that I enjoyed them.

    As a children’s librarian, I was disappointed that my son was not an avid reader of books in primary school. Then he read ‘Bridge to Terabithia’ in his year 7 English class. He was a reader from then on. At that age he had very definite musical taste which was different to most of his peers with the exception of one girl, a platonic friend, who also enjoyed rhythm and blues. The friendship between a boy and a girl in Katherine Paterson’s book was what spoke to my son but of course he did not predict the ending and he did not stop talking to me about this book and so I read it too. Years later Katherine Paterson came to a CBC book conference and I bought the book and spoke to her at a book signing. She told me that her son had also had a platonic friendship and was the inspiration for the book.

    1. How lovely it must have been to have worked as a librarian – my dream job. I think Bridge to Terabithia was the first book that made me cry, and I’m still drawn to sad books. It’s interesting to hear that Paterson was inspired by her own son’s friendship.

  2. Hello Fleur I went through a stage when I thought I could live with less books, but it was too difficult. Today, I walk a fine line between keeping the books I love and devoting the remainder of the shelf space for new finds and purchases. Have you been to The Little Bookshop, corner Doveton and Howitt? I have purchased some great books there as well as my finds in Op Shops.

    1. Hi Sue! I really need to stop making new purchases (even op shop ones!) because my shelves are filling up too quickly. I haven’t heard of The Little Bookshop but thanks for the tip – I’ll check it out. Not long now until the new arrival!!

  3. […] It’s a topic Fleur Morrison at Readability wrote about recently, and it set me wondering. I’ve read a few books, especially since making a concerted effort to read more about three years ago, but it does seem like I have little to show for it. The idea of buying a previously read book therefore, at a decent price from say a charity shop, has its appeal. […]

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