My Criteria for Keeping a Print Book

by John Soares on January 9, 2013

I still love print books and I have a substantial number of them.

But I recently got rid of most of my print books, and here’s why…

Stack of books to donate

Creative Commons license courtesy Chris Chapman.

It takes time, space, and energy to keep a lot of books. You need room to store them. And just seeing all the spines can be a distraction.

Over the last couple of years I’ve removed about 80% of the books from my home office.

Why I Keep a Print Book

For me to keep a book it must meet at least one of these criteria:

1. It has information I realistically believe I’ll need to access within the next year or two.

2. I’ve underlined it and/or made notes in it — and I think I’ll need to refer to it someday.

3. It can’t be easily replaced — and I think I’ll want to read it at some point, or give it as a gift.

What You Can Do with Print Books You Don’t Want

You have several options:

1. You can sell them yourself on ebay or Amazon or another site

Of course, this can be a hassle and a substantial investment of your time, and your competing with many other sellers on price.

2. You can also sell them to a used book dealer

But don’t expect to get much for them. In my experience over the years, used book dealers won’t give you much cash, though they’ll give you more in store credit. If you do the store credit, make sure you check any restrictions, like using the credit within a year. (I got burned on this by a used bookstore back when I lived on Kauai in the 1990s.)

3. You can donate them to your favorite thrift store or to your local library

This is the option I do most often. It allows me to support causes that are important and get books quickly back into the hands of people who want to read them.

And there’s the unique town of Ashland, Oregon where I live; it’s the home of the Rogue Valley Free Media Exchange where you can take as many books as you want for free. They just encourage you to keep the cycle flowing by donating books you don’t want. Such a deal!

4. You can give them to family and friends

Many of the people you know have interests similar to yours. Let ’em have first crack at the giveaway stack.

5. You can recycle them

Don’t laugh: I’ve done this with a couple of books on Internet marketing I bought a while back that I don’t think anybody should read.

Be Careful Which Books You Have in Your Home Office

Certain books can distract you. When I recently moved from the Mount Shasta area to Ashland, Oregon, I decided to only have certain books on the shelves in my office.

Why? Because some of them can distract me from getting my work done. For example, seeing four reference books I bought three years ago for a business idea I haven’t yet pursued gets me thinking about that idea rather than what I need to be doing right now. It can also feel like an unfinished task, which my mind will keep jumping to.

What I Haven’t Done (Yet)

I haven’t made the move to reading books digitally, although I’m considering getting Amazon’s Kindle Fire or a similar reader.

I do read e-books and PDF files on my computer, and I’m cool with that, but I still prefer to read print in a book I can actually hold in my hand. It’s easier on the eyes and I don’t have to attach myself to another electronic device.

Your Take

Are you one of those people with lots and lots of books or are you a minimalist? Or have you made the big switch to e-readers?

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{ 33 comments… read them below or add one }

1 martha hart January 9, 2013 at 6:05 AM

Great topic for a post, especially with the back-and-forth about whether ebooks are replacing real books or a passing trend or…

I’m a book addict, always have been, but I’m starting to wind down. My way of sorting through and making decisions about what to keep is perhaps less objective than what you describe. But I start with 3 questions:

would I read it again (or read it for the first time)?
is it useful to me for reference (project-based or just-interested-in)?
does it have sentimental value?

If I answer YES to any of those, I keep it. Otherwise, it goes. I’ve cut my library in half this way, and will go through it again, as we have a move coming up in the next three years.

Selling on amazon or ebay is usually not worth the time and effort, unless it’s a uniquely valuable book. I’ve donated most to the local library for their monthly fundraising sales. Another donation destination would be an artist who makes new art from old books:

And I don’t find all those spines distracting… they’re more like my friends, and I think my rooms would feel stark and institutional if I weren’t surrounded by them.

You’ll have guessed that I haven’t gone the ebook route, either – as an artist myself, I like the tactile experience of holding the book and turning the pages, feeling and smelling the paper, enjoying the illustrations or photographs… all of that’s important to me.
martha hart recently posted…Mixing things up


2 John Soares January 9, 2013 at 8:07 AM

Thanks for the comment Martha.

And thanks also for sharing the link to all those cool pics of art created from books. Who knew?

Our criteria for keeping books are similar. I do keep a few books for sentimental reasons, primarily the few that remain from my childhood.
John Soares recently posted…50 Ways to Beat Writer’s Block and Procrastination: A Free Special Report


3 Mike Carlson January 9, 2013 at 8:08 AM

I know this is something I should do. I’m such a book-a-holic that I find it hard to get rid of them.
I have given away bags full of paperbacks in the past but the rest sit on my shelves under the “what if someday” category.

I hope all is well in Ashland, it’s such a fantastic place with a wonderful vibe!


4 John Soares January 9, 2013 at 8:39 AM

I’ve found that too many books leads to a lot of clutter.

Ashland is fantastic. We love it here and truly feel like we’ve found home.
John Soares recently posted…How the Web Changes Your Brain and Hurts Your Life


5 steeny lou January 9, 2013 at 8:24 AM

I have lots and lots of books. I’ve given some away, but more just keep coming. It’s a lot less than it used to be prior to getting connected to the internet in 1997, with so much information being available online.

I underline and make notes in a lot of my books, too. And woe unto any writer who fails to get themselves a good editor prior to going into print – I will find and underline/circle their errors. (I’m actually seriously considering going into freelance editing, after all my years correcting the grammatical errors of doctors).

Plus, having home schooled several of my seven children, books just gravitated my ways, to have on hand for the kids to read.
steeny lou recently posted…Missing The Most Important Person In My World


6 John Soares January 9, 2013 at 8:41 AM

Interesting that you mention editing books as you read. I’ve been tempted to do that before, and it’s always an indication that I won’t be finishing the book.

I recently read a mystery (Steven Saylor’s murder mysteries set in ancient Republican Rome) where a reader had fixed the few typos in the book.
John Soares recently posted…Why You Are So Slow Finishing That Freelance Writing Project


7 John Soares January 9, 2013 at 8:43 AM

Editing is an important profession and it will always be in demand.

Go for it!
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8 Linda M Au January 9, 2013 at 8:29 AM

I’m a writer and a reader. I’ve got books on bookshelves up to the ceilings (literally). Frankly, I don’t have plans to get rid of the ones I have, and I do still buy print books, but my criteria for buying new ones have changed since I bought the first-generation Kindle five years ago. (About six months before I bought it, I was saying that e-readers were a tool of the devil. Ha!)

Criteria for new books now are:

— I will be lending them to other people.
— They are books by favorite authors I’ve been collecting for years.
— They are reference books I need (I’m a proofreader and copy editor).
— The covers are really pretty. (Just kidding. Well, a little…)

If you’re considering an e-reader, here are some quick thoughts:

— E-ink e-readers (which aren’t backlit like computers) are better for the eyes than print books. I have chronic dry eye and ocular rosacea, and my e-ink Kindles have been great for reading for longer periods of time. I can change the font and font size, and the screen is crystal clear.

— Kindle Fires are tablets more than they are e-readers. You *can* read on them but if you have eye issues or just want to read, then consider the better and cheaper e-ink Kindles (the newest being the Paperwhite, which is amazing with its FRONT-lit screen for no eye strain).

— E-readers mean you can take advantage of so many new authors who are offering their books either free or cheap on the Kindle. (I subscribe to several lists that notify me of popular Kindle deals every day.) You can also get nearly all the older classic literature for free.

— E-readers mean you can borrow e-books from local libraries with ease, and without late fees.

— E-readers mean you can travel and not have to decide which book or two to bring along. You can bring thousands! (This also applies to “traveling” to waiting rooms and other places where you will have down-time.)

— E-readers are more “green” than printing paper books for everything. Let’s face it: I don’t need to own and store a print copy of every fun, popular current bestseller out there. But I can read them on an e-reader without having to make that decision.


Hope you make the switch! Basic versions of e-readers are SO cheap now that you’ll save money immediately scouting out the freebie deals as I mentioned above.

In the meantime, I’ve shelved all my print books and love them all. My main working desk faces a window, not the bookshelves, and that helps to keep me less distracted by their awesomeness. :)
Linda M Au recently posted…Things I Learned from Barnabas Collins


9 steeny lou January 9, 2013 at 8:40 AM

Linda M Au… you’re a proofreader and copy editor, huh? I’d love to talk to you. I’ve been leaning strongly in the direction of doing editing for a living.

If you get a chance, feel free to email me at I promise no auto-response will greet you.
steeny lou recently posted…Missing The Most Important Person In My World


10 John Soares January 9, 2013 at 8:48 AM

Linda, thanks for sharing those great tips on choosing an e-reader. I know I’ll do it soon, but I haven’t yet reached the tipping point.

I especially like your suggestion to get an e-ink reader. I look at screens for a substantial portion of the day, and anything I can do to save my eyes is important.

My work desk also faces a window, with another window just to the side of it, so I don’t see any books either.
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11 Dave Doolin January 9, 2013 at 8:42 AM

I’m currently buying as many print books as ever, but all technical. I’ve found having information on paper where I can annotate works better than online or digital. (Two notable exceptions would take too long to explain.) Among my technical friends, this seems not unusual.

Fiction I’ve moved to totally digital, and really prefer it.


12 John Soares January 9, 2013 at 8:50 AM

Dave, it’s the ability to underline and write notes that I really appreciate about print books. There’s something about reading an important book with pen in hand that really helps me pay attention and learn and think.

Good to see you here again!
John Soares recently posted…The Best Freelance Writing Locations


13 Tom Bentley January 9, 2013 at 9:18 AM

John, I still have a deep affection for print books, though it’s almost like keeping a photo album of friends past: I have shelves of my favorite books, mostly fiction, that I re-read occasionally, but most of the attention they get now is through dusting.

But I still buy print, and particularly enjoy hardcover books, if they are nicely bound and typeset—their appeal is a sensual thing too. However, I’ve had e-readers for a while now, and enjoy the convenience; I was just on a three-day weekend, and packed my Kindle Fire rather than any books. Linda made some great points about e-readers in general, and I agree with her that the dedicated e-readers are comfortable, a great deal, and don’t present the Web distractions of the tablet.

One caveat on the great availability of freebies and inexpensive Kindle books, and mentioned here in another context: if you’re a stickler for spelling and grammar, you may wince at many self-pubbed works that are in circulation. I’ve been an editor for 25 years—my eyes are bleeding…
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14 John Soares January 9, 2013 at 3:53 PM

Tom, I can definitely see the advantages of e-readers.

A couple of thoughts:

1. Since I moved to Ashland, I’ve been making great use of the library here, which has saved from having to buy many books.

2. There’s also the expense of e-books. Many of the books I really want I already own in print; I’d have to purchase them again as e-books.

And I hear you about the problems of self-published e-books. I always have at least one other writer edit my material thoroughly before I publish.
John Soares recently posted…When Is the Best Time for You to Write?


15 Cathy Miller January 9, 2013 at 10:02 AM

Great topic, John. If you’re on the self (sorry, couldn’t resist the bad pun) 😉 about clearing out your books, try moving. When I moved from California to Idaho, I had to do a major cleanup (for a number of reasons). I donated about 20 boxes of books – seriously.

I love books, and like you, I have not yet made the move to a Kindle of other e-reader. I’m sure I will, but I’m not there yet. I find I have a good handle on my books for business. It’s my personal ones that tend to pile up.

I ended up keeping just two favorite authors’ series, which made it much more manageable. I often re-read them so I feel good about keeping them.

But, you have inspired me to evaluate my business books Although not out of control, I definitely could do some trimming there. Thanks, John.
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16 John Soares January 9, 2013 at 11:27 AM

My moves have also inspired me to get rid of my books, most recently my move to Ashland, Oregon last May. But I’ve really been getting on top of it over the last couple of years, so many of them were already gone.
John Soares recently posted…50 Ways to Beat Writer’s Block and Procrastination: A Free Special Report


17 Gene Burnett January 9, 2013 at 10:16 AM

I don’t like gadgets and I do love print books. Too much to write in them though. And I very rarely buy a used book with writing in it. I find other people’s notes and underlining annoying or distracting. I keep books I really love, look at often, or can conceive of reading again. I keep books that are hard to find in case I might read them again. And I keep a few that have sentimental value. The rest I pass on as I go. I used to have tons of books. Now just one small shelf.


18 John Soares January 9, 2013 at 11:29 AM

I’ve only occasionally gotten used books with writing in them, primarily from the Rogue Valley Free Media Exchange. I don’t like someone else’s writing or underlining — it’s very distracting.

It’s interesting, though, how many people start out so enthusiastically underlining and writing notes in the margin, but only make it through the first couple of chapters — and then giving the book away.
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19 Kathi January 9, 2013 at 11:27 AM

I had nearly 1,000 books before I moved from the U.S. to China four months ago. I made myself sacrifice nearly everything I own, including books, when I put things into storage. The criteria became, what can and cannot be replaced when I return to the states in a year?
Books were tough, and I found myself saving far, far, far many more books than I had originally anticipated. Ugh. Oh, I got rid of a lot of them, but I know there are way too many books in my storage unit than are good for me. I am a paper and ink addict who fights that addiction like a heroin junkie out of smack every time I walk by a book store (pathetically, that holds true in China even though I can’t read Chinese characters).
A friend loaned me her Kindle for my year long sojourn, and I am both shocked and thrilled that I love it so. I never thought I’d take to e-reading, especially since I can barely tolerate online reading, pdfs, etc. Having English books here in China has been a huge help in adjusting to the overwhelming difference that is life between the United States and China. A couple of dozen books in a portable format has made made such an improvement to my health and welfare while getting used to a life totally different from what I am used to. I will definitely have to get a Kindle (0r some other e-reading device) of my own when I get home. As much as I love real books, they can’t compete with the convenience of an e-reader.

Long live real paper books with ink and pages to turn and everything. I love them, and will buy every last one I can get my hands on if they ever go extinct; but amazingly, there is a place too, in this world of constant change, for electronic books. They’re pretty awesome too.


20 John Soares January 9, 2013 at 4:00 PM

I’ve seen people just whip out a Kindle or other e-reader to snatch a few minutes of reading at a bus stop or while waiting inline. I definitely see the convenience!

I hope you really enjoy China. I’ve studied tai chi fairly seriously for the last seven years and I’ve thought about taking a trip there someday. I think, though, that what I want it to be and what it actually is are quite different.
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21 Cheryl Rhodes January 9, 2013 at 11:42 AM

Good post!

I’m a huge bookaholic and getting rid of books is very hard for me. My husband built a huge bookcase for them, a unit of several bookcases actually. After a couple of moves and those boxes of books are very heavy. Fortunately those bookcases are able to be dismantled and moved too! Before our last move I bit the bullet and took all the books I was unlikely to read again and put them in our moving sale. It was really hard for me to do. Even worse only a few of them sold. I donated them all to charity. My husband’s mother used to belong to a book club and got all these hardcover books. Lots of them. After she died I tried to sell them on Amazon but not a single bite. I ended up putting an ad on Craigslist for free books – about 60 of them – and got rid of them thanks to the first responder who agreed to take them all.

Donating books or giving them away for free is about the best thing to do. For me its only partly about the clutter. Its mostly thinking about how heavy they are the next time I move. Its not so tough for me to part with them now.

Two years ago I got an iPad and have all kinds of reading apps. I’ve mostly switched to ebooks. A lot lighter on my next move!


22 John Soares January 9, 2013 at 4:02 PM

Thanks for sharing your story Cheryl.

I’ve only donated books; it seems far too difficult to try to sell them. I have given a few that are very salable to a friend to sell on ebay, and let him keep the money.
John Soares recently posted…50 Ways to Beat Writer’s Block and Procrastination: A Free Special Report


23 J'aime Wells January 9, 2013 at 1:00 PM

I belong to BookMooch:
which is a great way to rehome books. Like Cheryl, I have a hard time letting go of books, but sending them to people who have requested them feels more positive.
Of course, I do get points on the site for the books I send out, and then I end up using the points to request books from others. So the total number of books in the house doesn’t go down.
J’aime Wells recently posted…Why musicians should do yoga


24 John Soares January 9, 2013 at 4:04 PM

Thanks for sharing BookMooch J’aime. I really like the concept.

I bought a rare book I needed through a similar site a few years ago. It would have been free if I’d had points.
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25 Anne Wayman January 9, 2013 at 1:51 PM

I had my print books in storage for a long time… four or five years ago I moved to a place big enough for two big book cases, one on either side of a window. And I found matching bookcases on Craig’s list for a pittance. I so enjoyed getting all my books out of their sundry boxes and putting them on the shelves. I spent an amazing amount of time just looking at them… not reading, but looking at my friends on display as it were.

When I moved to my current location all that packing and moving of books was exhausting. The landlord helped install the bookcases on my promise I would leave them if I ever moved.

Slowly, oh so slowly I’ve been donating, and giving away books and I think I’m ahead… more are gone than I’ve brought in.

An iPad, which I love, proved a poor reading companion in bed because of glare. I recently treated myself to a Kindle with a keyboard and epaper I bought at about half-price on ebay. Love it for reading in bed. Woke up the other night trying to turn pages instead of clicking buttons!

My plan is to get rid, gently, of more print books, use the Kindle and the library – I sure won’t run out of things to read.

Thanks for the post, John
Anne Wayman recently posted…Marketing’s First Principle Improves Your Writing, And Your Sales


26 John Soares January 9, 2013 at 4:08 PM

Anne, for a while I had a rule of one book out for every book in, but then I went on the big run of donating and I’m way ahead.

I also downloaded software from Amazon that lets me read Kindle ebooks on my computer. I rarely use it, but I occasionally download free ebooks and it’s good to know I can read them.
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27 Lori January 10, 2013 at 7:40 AM

John, I was gifted a Nook Color a few years ago. Makes a great screen for playing Angry Birds. :) However, I’ve yet to read a book on it. I like holding a book, smelling the pages, seeing how far I’ve read or how close I am to the end…. and if I drop it, I don’t have a small heart attack. LOL
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28 John Soares January 10, 2013 at 7:49 AM

I also really appreciate the tactile sensation of holding a book.

Plus I just got a really cool “Buen Camino” bookmark from a friend who recently walked the Camino de Santiago in northern Spain.
John Soares recently posted…50 Ways to Beat Writer’s Block and Procrastination: A Free Special Report


29 Sarah L. Webb January 11, 2013 at 11:36 AM

It’s amazing how timely some posts are. I’m literally planning to check a used book trader in my neighborhood to get rid of some books. I got a standard kindle for christmas, and it’s the best option for me because I move almost every year these days, and my books are becoming burdens.

I also add that I keep a book if it’s one I got autographed in person.

Great topic. One I’ve never seen discussed.
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30 John Soares January 11, 2013 at 11:56 AM

Sarah, I also keep autographed copies too, though I only have a few.

I hope things go well with the book trader. In my experience they’ll take only some of them, leaving you to decide what to do with the rest.
John Soares recently posted…When Is the Best Time for You to Write?


31 Taswir Haider February 2, 2013 at 9:21 AM

Nice post ! I’m currently buying as many print books as ever, but all technical. I’ve found having information on paper where I can annotate works better than online or digital. Thanks for sharing it.
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32 Pinar Tarhan February 8, 2013 at 3:02 PM

Hi John,

I love e-books to the point that I refuse to buy a non-fiction book if it doesn’t come in pdf. Of course I still prefer reading paperback, but if I can’t find them in a bookstore, I don’t want to deal with shipping.

My problem is, I love printing out e-books because it is easier to study them that way, so they also create space problems. But I don’t keep the ones whose information I internalized or the ones that aren’t worth going back to.

With paperbacks, I also look at its referencing/studying/rereading potential. If they don’t offer any value anymore, I throw them out or give them away. Space problem bugs me the most…
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33 John Soares February 23, 2013 at 6:57 AM

You need to consider the cost of printing an ebook, which can be 5 cents or more per page. It often is actually cheaper to buy the print book.

I am an Amazon Prime member, so I get most books shipped to me within two days.
John Soares recently posted…50 Ways to Beat Writer’s Block and Procrastination: A Free Special Report


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