Books rotate in and out of our house on a regular basis. Keith and I order and either read or set books aside for later. We shelve keepers and place others in the donate box. Sometimes, when in-flow exceeds out-flow, we run out of space. Then we sort again and take all donations to our local public library. Digital books have solved some of the space problem, but the real issue is time.

As noted in a previous post (, Richard Rohr posits that in the second half of life, we have time and energy to move beyond the first half of life preoccupation with identity. Instead of who am I, how can I support myself and who will go with me, we are free to construct a new table of contents. What is important now, we might ask, and how do I want to spend my time knowing that by choosing one, I will not choose many, many others?

A gradual move out of a “first-half-of-life” house to Vanaprastha is providing us with an opportunity to think about such questions, to look back at books from the past and decide what we really want to keep. Will I ever get around to reading Diane Ackerman’s A Natural History of the Senses or to refer to it? Should I keep James Michener’s Centennial, Ken Follet’s Pillars of the Earth or the Jane Austen Book Club? Do I still want to look at Edward Hopper’s paintings or Matthew Brady’s photographs in a book, or can I get the same information online? Will I really use those Japanese cookbooks or study the language again? Do I want to re-read Tocqueville, Bruce Catton, John Hershey, or revisit the history of medical missionaries in 19th century China? What new subject areas do I want to explore. Which youthful enthusiasms do I want to recapture?

Where I put my books also tells me how I plan to spend my time. At this point, the basement media/library shelves contain mostly nonfiction reference books; the loft bedroom, my retreat when we don’t have guests, is for fiction; and the main floor where I work is a world of writing, cooking, nature, language and religious studies, and music scores now that I have time to play again.

How do you organize your books?


  1. Marisol

    Hey, if you don’t want the Edward Hopper art book, I’ll take it. Just kidding! Though I do love Nighthawks.

    • Carole Duff

      Ah, yes, Hopper’s most famous painting, although I prefer House by the Railroad or even better, Lighthouse Hill, landscapes which remind me of Andrew Wyeth’s work. And thus, Hopper remains wistful on my reference shelf. Thank you for your comment! -C.D.


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