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Cleaning Bookshelves

I don’t often show photos of our study because rarely is it tidy.   Well, it is a working room, with two computers on a wall-to-wall bench, along with phone and copier, etc.  The bench will be tidied and photographed in due course. Above is the wall of books which I finished cleaning only this evening.  I’ve yet to go through the magazines at the bottom – I keep promising myself I will dispose of them but I’m reluctant to do so.  But if/when I do, I will have all this space for my overflow of books currently piled up in the sitting room!  I am not a hoarder, per se; it’s only books that I keep and even with those I’m careful to dispose of books for which I no longer have a use or know I shall never read.

I started in the top left hand corner yesterday morning, removing the books shelf by shelf, dusting each shelf and then each  individual book the correct way with a badger-hair shaving brush which I keep for this very purpose.  Dusting, always, from the spine of the book outwards so dust isn’t pushed back into the book.

Here are some history, social history and housekeeping books, but by no means all of them.  Some are in another section – I have to spread books around according to the size of the shelves as they are fixed shelves (husband made all the bookcases for me 20 years ago when he retired and we then agreed to share the study as a work space.  Twenty years ago I had, of course, fewer books! But there again, I’ve parted with as many as you see here, over the years.)  The colour of the shelves is a slightly duller, softer shade of terracotta than it looks on the photos, it’s not as bright as it looks here.

Although it has been tiring, removing all the books and dusting each and every one, it has been quite therapeutic, and after I made the effort to start this mammoth cleaning task (as I also need to clean the bookshelves in the sitting room/dining room and in the bed sitting room and guest bedroom) there was a degree of satisfaction after these shelves had been done, the books returned and the whole area tidied up.  It mightn’t look as pristine as some bookshelves in historic libraries, there are not loads of leather bound volumes (although I do have a small section of leather-bound pocket books elsewhere) as this is very much a working library. All the books in the study are non-fiction; fiction lives elsewhere.

I ‘weeded’ the shelves as I went but I have only been able to rid the shelves of about a dozen books so far which is rather pathetic! This is because I had a huge ‘weed’ a few years ago when I got rid of close to 250 books.

Book cull in 2013 (all these, plus a rug and lampshades went to the British Heart Foundation charity)

I gave them to the British Heart Foundation – they had to send a man-with-a-van to collect them.  That kind of cull only happens once in a blue moon!

How lovely it would be to have sufficient shelf space for every section of my library so that I could keep all the gardening books together, all the architecture books together, all the art books together and so forth.   I do my best, but there are split-collections according to the size of the books, although you will see some ‘short’ books on ‘tall’ shelves but, overall, I’ve done my best to keep similar subjects  together.

The most untidy-looking shelves are those which hold our large quantity (I say “our” but really, I have to own up … they are really mine as I don’t think husband has bought such a book in his life!) of historic house and garden guide books.  If we’ve visited a place, then there’s a guide book here, and they are in alphabetical order, from Arlington Court to The Vine.  I have a similar shelf which holds all the Devon literature, on towns and villages and local history.

Here are some of my country books, such as Lark Rise to Candleford, and Corduroy (Adrian Bell) and books on conversations with gardeners, such as The 3000 Mile Garden,   Also, books on Suffolk, the county I love almost as much as my home county of Devon.

Below the shelf on historic houses and gardens (leaflets and guide books) are some interior design and décor books, Nina Campbell, David Hicks, etc.  Below it, out of the picture, are yet more décor books, such as those by Farrow & Ball on colour.

And so I am tired this evening.  Books are heavy, very heavy, and I feel I’ve given myself a good work out (but with beneficial side effects that you don’t get from a gym:  clean bookshelves and clean books!)

I cooked bacon & tomatoes on toast for our breakfast and elder son joined us for some,  daughter in law having gone to work, and little grandson having returned to school after the Easter holiday; for lunch I re-heated some tomato and courgette soup I had in the freezer and we had that with mini baguettes and afterwards, I re-heated the last of the toffee apple cake and we had that with a little (just a smidgen) of whipping cream but used as pouring cream.

The daffodils I bought last Friday are now in full bloom and look wonderful in the kitchen – I love to have flowers in the kitchen, after all I spend a lot of time in there! And for supper it was scrambled eggs on toast with mushrooms in balsamic again, I hadn’t the energy to cook anything more demanding.

Now for a cup of tea and University Challenge, a favourite programme. And tomorrow, more bookshelf cleaning.

Until next time.

About Margaret Powling

Margaret Powling
Margaret’s main interests are her husband and family, her friends, her home, her garden, writing, literature, architecture, décor, social history, photography, historic houses and gardens, and towns, villages and the countryside. She writes about the things she enjoys: flowers, scent, fine soap, monthly style magazines, and other such small indulgences, such as afternoon tea or simply enjoying her summerhouse with a book. She invites you to enjoy this virtual visit to South Devon, England.

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  1. Hello Margaret, I can totally relate to this post as I too am in the process of cleaning and culling our bookshelves. Although we don’t have nearly as many books as you do, it is still a mammoth undertaking, brought about by our purchase of new wall to wall carpet for our second floor and staircase. I am not as far ahead in my project as you are, but I do look forward to the satisfaction when it is done.

    By the way, I too have a copy of Lark Rise to Candleford and must admit to stopping my task to browse through it once again.

    I really enjoy reading your blog and am quite disappointed on the days you don’t post. However, you seem to lead a full life so you obviously can’t post every single day. Thank you for taking the time to post as often as you do.
    (from Vancouver, Canada, where we are presently experiencing torrential rain)

    • Margaret Powling
      Margaret Powling

      Jayne, thank you so much for your lovely comments, I’m really touched that you say you are disappointed on the days when I don’t post! Lark Rise is a lovely book, isn’t it, and of course, the author Flora Thompson has connections with our part of Devon. She and her husband retired to a cottage in Brixham and she is buried in Longcross Cemetery in Dartmouth.
      I’m sorry you are having torrential rain; we’ve had a dreadful spring so far, cold and wet, but today has been much better and at last our tulips in our small back garden are in bloom.
      Best of luck with your own bookshelf cleaning! I actually enjoyed it once I started on the task!

  2. Good job Margaret, All my books currently reside in boxes ready for our move on Wednesday. I have culled lots too over the past few years, but my son who works for a publishing house has brought home probably at least as many books as I’ve passed on. He has just moved to a house share in London and of course has barely room to swing a cat let alone store books so guess who will be book-sitting his collection. The penultimate time I cleaned my booshelves I arranged them by colour. Big mistake, I could never find a book. It was such a relief to rearrange them back into prose, poetry, drama, history, gardening, art etc. I would love to know your desert island books on interior design if you had to keep just eight.

    • Margaret Powling
      Margaret Powling

      Ooh, what a wonderful idea, Sarah, my eight favourite books on interior design! I shall have to mull that over and perhaps do such a post. But there again, the next year, or even the next month, my thoughts would change! Books which are on current ‘trends’ such as the current vogue for everything Scandi or vintage would be conspicuous by their absence, let me assure you. Decorating ‘on trend’ as they say is a route map to disaster I think; you have found out that arranging your books by colour rather than content was a big mistake; so also themes, I think. Best of luck for your move on Wednesday. Are you moving far? I hope all goes well – don’t forget to pack an easily-get-at-able kettle, milk and tea (or coffee, milk and tea) and some mugs or cups so that once you are there, you can have a brew, as my Lancastrian cousin refers to a cup of tea.

  3. I had a chuckle reading this, Margaret. I have a LOT of books too, and they are the only things which I hoard. And I do re-read them. When I moved home 2 & 1/2 years ago, from a house to a wee cottage I had to dispose of many of my belongings, as they wouldn’t fit into my (then) new home. I gave hundreds of dollars worth of specialist books to a friend who had always wanted some, but couldn’t afford them. And I have trained myself to give any that I know that I shan’t read again, to the local hospice. My books are all arranged in particular order and this is one thing that I’m very fussy about. I love books!

    • Margaret Powling
      Margaret Powling

      It’s good that we book lovers know it’s perfectly fine to dispose of those books we know we will never read again or refer to again, Ratnamurti, and, like you, I do love to have my books in order – or what is order to me, others would undoubtedly arrange them quite differently. But at least I have a very good idea where 99% of them are! It was lovely that you were able to give a lot of specialist books to a friend and others to your local hospice. I pass all my unwanted books to the hospice charity shop.

  4. What a big job, Margaret! Well done! And to be able to climb up and reach the top shelves is wonderful. Ladders and even some stairs are my nemeses (probably not the best word) now, I’m afraid. Thank you for sharing about the badger-hair shaving brush for cleaning books. I use a soft paintbrush, but a good shaving brush sounds perfect. Lark Rise to Candleford was a book I donated to the library a few years ago, and of course, every time I see it mentioned I begin to regret my parting with it. But I just didn’t see reading it ever again, although it was a wonderful book. For many years, I decorated with “artfully arranged” books, but when the kitties moved in, I moved them all to safer places. Now, if it weren’t for culling books, I’d just about forget the titles I have because I only have one bookcase, and the rest are stashed in drawers, chests, and on closet shelves. But I know they’re there, and I love them still! I will close, but the next time I go to our bigger grocery store, I hope to find watercress so I can try your delicious-looking soup! Thank you for sharing your life with your readers. Similar to Jayne, your posts are a favorite part of my day!

    • Margaret Powling
      Margaret Powling

      Hello, Bess. Yes, it was a big job and there’s much the same still to do on the other side of the room, at right-angles to these bookshelves, with just the door to the hall in between. I used a chair to reach the top two shelves, but it’s a secure chair, not a rickety one. I prefer a chair to a step ladder.
      While I was cleaning the books I misplaced the badger-hair shaving brush and then had to use a paintbrush (not one for wall, an artist’s paintbrush) and then I noticed that the shaving brush had rolled under the large chair by the window.
      Strangely enough, I’m going to put some books away in wicker baskets (with lids) that live on the top of the wardrobe in our guest bedroom. In deed the space for a collection of Shire books (books on all kinds of esoteric topics) of which I have very many (perhaps more than 300).
      I hope you can find some watercress so that you can try out the soup, it’s easy, as I have said, and very tasty and nutritious.
      Oh, I’m really touched that, like Jayne, you have said my posts are a favourite part of your day. That is very kind and much appreciated.

  5. Good for you! Well done! I have very few books compared to you. I am an avid reader, but most of my books come from the library. Most of the books I do buy are books I would refer back to repeatedly – gardening and quilting books. The only time I buy novels are at a rummage sale for very cheap – then I pass them on to someone else after I’ve read them. I do have a huge (for me) stack of novels currently – given to me by my sister. I seem to be very slow getting them read as they’ve been stacked up in my bedroom for many, many months!

    • Margaret Powling
      Margaret Powling

      Hello, Jeannine. I used to borrow books all the time from our local library. I used to read the reviews in the Sat and Sunday newspapers and then order the new books so that I’d be top of the list when they came in at the library. I would then phone the library regularly to see if anything had come in for me, I must’ve been a perfect nuisance! I would take the little cards on which you ordered books by the fistful and I think, in those days, it was about 50p to order a book. Anyway, then along came the internet and Amazon and I can buy books for almost as little as ordering from the library (the fee must surely have gone up by now) plus the trip to the library, parking fee, etc. It’s naughty, I know, but I can now buy the books that once I’d only have borrowed. I think if we went to our local town more, I would still borrow, but I rarely set foot in our local town, preferring other areas in which to shop.
      I hope you eventually enjoy the novels passed on to you by your sister. It doesn’t matter that you are slow at getting to read them, they aren’t going to get up and walk out, are they?

  6. I found myself swooning over the photos of your built-in ceiling-height bookshelves. They are divine. I have two wooden bookshelves – one about one metre in height which belonged to my late grandmother – but I’ve never owned anything as ‘grown up’ as yours ! I would snuggle into that reading chair, cup of tea by my side, and linger there for hours. Maybe in my next home – which will be grand as I will have won the lottery to buy it – I will have a proper study with several bookshelves up to the ceiling. Oh and a lovely old wooden desk with proper shelves and everything ……

    • Margaret Powling
      Margaret Powling

      Oh, I love the idea of you winning the Lottery and buying a grand home, Lara! When the Lottery started here in the UK I bought a ticket but, of course, didn’t win, so I’ve not bought one since, ha ha! But I now do what is known as the Postcode Lottery and I’ve won twice on that, but just £10 a time, and my outlay is £10 a month, so the wins just covered my outlay for two months!
      As I mentioned, my husband built the bookshelves about 20 years ago, and also our workbench with little cupboards at either end – photos will doubtless appear here of this bench in due course, once the room is thoroughly cleaned and tidied. He built all the bookshelves in the house, in the dining end of our sitting/dining room, in the sitting end, in the bed sitting room and in the guest bedroom. But even with all these bookshelves I have run out of shelf space!

  7. What a mammoth task Margaret, I love the way you keep your favourite magazines and also guide books, I always pick up a guide book or souvenir programme from historical places we visit.
    You are so organised, so neat and tidy, I love the colour of the bookshelves, it works very well. Good luck with the rest of the sorting today.

    • Margaret Powling
      Margaret Powling

      Thank you, Marlene, for saying it’s neat and tidy and organized! I like to think so, but guide books are difficult to make look neat and tidy, all those glossy covers slip and slide all over the place when you are trying to put them in alphabetical order! The NT guide books are mainly uniform size, but those places that are privately owned tend to have large format guide books which will only stand upright on a very high shelf-space, so they have to go in sideways which I don’t like but there is little alternative. I will continue to clean the other wide of the room today, and then there’s the work bench and the cupboards before I can move on to another room and yet more bookshelves!

  8. What a wonderful collection of books Margaret, we currently only have two bookcases, one in the dining room and one in the spare bedroom so I do have to be quite strict in which books I keep and which ones get sent on their way to a new owner. Every now and again I get addicted to a certain author and then read everything they have ever written which can prove expensive!
    Bless you for saying Suffolk is your favourite county after Devon, apart from a brief spell in London for work I have lived in East Anglia for the whole of my life and love it here.

    • Margaret Powling
      Margaret Powling

      I have bought a lot of my books for research when writing articles, Elaine, such as those on the Great Fire of London, and Suburbia (two subjects, I don’t mean that the two are related in any way!) and am now reluctant to part with the books as they are so interesting. The history of suburbia fascinates me as most people live on the outskirts of town, rather than directly within a town or in the countryside, and yet years ago, before we had transport other than horses and our two legs, people either lived in a town or in the countryside, in villages or hamlets, so suburbia is relatively new … it meant people didn’t have to live within walking distance of their place of work. Oh, I must cease, this will turn into an essay on the subject otherwise!
      My first visit to Suffolk was in 1984 to Long Melford where we stayed for two weeks and I absolutely loved the county, both inland (Bury St Edmunds, Ickworth …) and the coast (Aldeburgh, Snape, Southwold …) We have since returned on a few occasions but not for over a decade, but we have such happy memories, particularly of the walk from Snape to Iken on a summer’s day, and attending concerts at Snape.

  9. Eloise (thisissixty.blog)

    You are being very prolific with your posts, Margaret. I’ve just noticed that I have three posts to catch up on.
    All those books to clean and to decide on their destiny. Phew, what a task!
    I’ve heard that our local charity shops are no longer taking books, though Oxfam have a charity bookshop in a nearby town, so presumably they are taking them. I keep far fewer books now than I used to but I can’t fring myself to clear out my language textbooks.
    I love Sarah’s idea of a desert island book list. I’m looking forward to your choice but I’ll bet it will cause you a headache!

    • Margaret Powling
      Margaret Powling

      I have been a bit prolific, Eloise, this week! I suppose after many years of writing articles, writing a post is very similar in many ways, and most of my posts are very much photo-led. Therefore, this morning’s sunrise was a gift, and then I always enjoy writing about food. I will seriously consider Sarah’s idea of Desert Island Interior Design Books and photograph the eight of my choice. I wonder why, on the original format for Desert Island Discs Roy Plomley came up with the idea of eight “gramophone records” … not seven or nine or even ten? Eight seems such a very odd number (odd as in weird, not odd as opposite to even) to me.
      I know what you mean about your English language text books – I couldn’t bring myself to get rid of books on the history of suburbia, or the Great Fire of London.

  10. Hello, Margaret. I, too, am in the process of culling my books and cleaning the shelves. I have a wall of built-in bookshelves, which I maxed out long ago and have stacks of books in various places. I have made some hard decisions about giving some away and I have been alphabetizing the fiction books by author. It has been a satisfying task that I have worked on in bits and pieces. My two largest bottom shelves I am setting aside for garden, art, travel, decorating and miscellaneous books. I also have two other bookcases in the house, one which holds my childhood books and the other which holds journals, garden books and a mishmash of other things. They are to be tackled next!. I have one shelf of unread unread fiction, after which I will need to borrow books from the library as I will simply have no more space. I also have a Kindle and I enjoy that very much but nothing beats holding a book in your hands. Plus, many are old and full of memories. Thank you for sharing your life. I enjoy reading about it very much.

    • Margaret Powling
      Margaret Powling

      Oh, Susan, it’s so hard parting with books, isn’t it? I alphabetized the fiction long ago, but my Virago books are together and also my Persephone books are together. There are bookcases not only in the study but elsewhere in the house, and they need some attention, too, but not as much as those did in the study! I only had a few of my childhood books, from the mid 1950s, but I have managed to get copies of those I remembered, mainly the lovely ballet books by Lorna Hill about which I’ve posted in the past, but perhaps, as the covers are so pretty, and the contents still so very readable, I might post about again. I do find, though, that if a work of fiction joins the To Be Read pile, if it’s there sufficiently long enough, the inclination is not to read it and it will go to the charity shop unread, I’m very ashamed to say. I don’t have a Kindle, perhaps one day, but I just love to hold a book, regardless of the fact that so many are heavy and make my hands ache!

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