Posted in Personal life, Reading

Off the Hook for Books

This final post of 2022 was originally written for the December 2022/January 2023 edition of the Tetbury Advertiser, which was published in the run-up to Christmas

This month my to-do list includes a much-needed weeding of my groaning bookshelves, in the hope that Father Christmas, who knows me well after all these years, will bring me a pile of lovely new books.

Every room in my house contains bookshelves, except the utility room and the larder. (I’ve slipped up there.) Each shelf is jam-packed with rows of books, with more laid on top horizontally to fill all available airspace. It’s clearly time to declutter. But which books should I keep and which jettison?

photo of reading nook with shelf of books about books
My reading nook houses my shelf of books about books

My shelves contain many books that I have yet to read, because a literal TBR pile would be taller than my house. They also store books I expect to reread, including some too fragile to withstand further handling. For sentimental reasons, I’m hanging onto my 1970s paperbacks of the complete works of Dorothy L Sayers and George Orwell, for example, which made a huge impact on me in my teens.

photo of my Dorothy L Sayers bookshelf
My growing collection of books and about Dorothy L Sayers has a shelf to itself

Although I own a Kindle, that doesn’t relieve the pressure. I use it only for travelling, and in between times it serves as a cloak of invisibility for ebooks. I’d always rather read a physical book.

Every time I start this exercise, or any other act of decluttering, I consider the advice of Japanese tidiness guru Marie Kondo. (I confess her methods transformed my tea-towel drawer.) In her first book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying, she recommended keeping so small a quantity of books that you’d need only one small shelf. Her rationale for such ruthlessness was that if you missed a book you’d disposed of, you could always buy it again. It’s true that books are easily accessible and affordable – a relatively cheap treat-to-self even in a recession – but that’s not an approach I’d apply to other material possessions, such as clothing, jewellery or furniture. Do I really want to follow it for books?

I’m keen not to do Ms Kondo a disservice, because her philosophy is inspired by her Shinto faith. So before writing this article, I went to find my copy of her book to check exactly how many books she recommends keeping. Then I remembered I disposed of it during a previous book purge. (Sorry, Marie – you’ve been hoist by your own petard.)

A Google search led me to her website, where I was pleased to discover she has revised her advice. Is it because she has now published so many books in multiple languages that, if applying her own rule, she couldn’t keep a souvenir copy of each one? “Keep as many books as you like,” is her latest advice, “as long as they spark joy.”

Well, that’s me off the hook from decluttering my bookshelves. Just don’t tell Father Christmas.

Wishing you endless sparks of joy this Christmas, and a contented New Year filled with good books.


Father Christmas did bring me some very lovely books – a biography of Richmal Crompton, creator of Just William…

cover of Richmal Crompton, the Woman Behind William by Mary Cadogan

…and a beautiful Folio Society box set of Dorothy L Sayers books.

I think I’m going to need a bigger DLS bookshelf…




English author of warm, witty cosy mystery novels including the popular Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries and the Gemma Lamb/St Bride's School series. Novels published by Boldwood Books, all other books by Hawkesbury Press. Represented by Ethan Ellenberg Literary Agents. Founder and director of the Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival. Course tutor for Jericho Writers. UK Ambassador for the Alliance of Independent Authors. Lives and writes in her Victorian cottage in the heart of the beautiful Cotswold countryside.

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