A couple of months ago I wrote a blog post asking for help on how to whittle down my old historical romance collection. It was a huge project for me to collect them throughout the years, but they were taking up too much shelf space and not sparking enough joy anymore. But it it was too hard to decide what to get rid of! I got a few really helpful answers, and after sitting on it for a while, I finally went through and weeded a ton of books. I thought it’d be fun to share a bit more about that process and what my shelves look like now!
Ok, for starters, I went through one author at a time and pulled out the ones I knew I wanted to keep. Mostly those were ones I strongly remember reading or know people still talk about today. Then I read the back of every book that was left to see whether it even sounded interesting. If it did, I put it in the maybe pile, and if it didn’t, it went in the donation pile. All of the books with beautiful vintage covers or stepbacks that weren’t immediate keeps went into their own pile, what I thought of as the aesthetic or visual pile.
Once I had my piles sorted, I started looking up each author to see what books were their most popular ones that I might want to make sure and keep. Smart Bitches, Trashy Books was especially helpful for this since they had reader-sourced lists of the best places to start for Johanna Lindsey and Jude Deveraux, but I looked at a bunch of different listicles to see if there was a pattern.
As it happened, most of the popular ones were ones I remembered reading and was already planning to keep, which is kind of neat. It says a lot that they imprint separately on so many different people! Though I suspect I’ve also absorbed the names of some of the most beloved ones from when they’ve made the rounds on Twitter, too. But still, pretty cool!
After that, I went and double checked the titles in both the maybe and the donation piles on Goodreads to see if one of my friends was a particular fan of any of them, and I also checked on Amazon to make sure they were at least available to purchase digitally if I decided for whatever reason that I absolutely had to read that book again one day. As it happens, none of the books I checked were favorites of my friends, and pretty much all of them are available as kindle books, which made me feel a lot more comfortable in my decision to donate them! So I feel like I got a pretty good collection to hang on to. I think I maybe rescued two Johanna Lindsey books from the donation pile (Once a Princess and its sequel, You Belong to Me), but otherwise this process didn’t convince me to keep anything.
I did all of these steps for the visual pile as well, and nothing really made these particular books jump out at me as ones I want to keep other than the fact that they have beautiful covers or stepbacks. I don’t really see myself as a collector of vintage romance novels, and I don’t want to become one, but some of those covers are really just too pretty to let go of. So I pulled out my favorites from the stack, and set the ones I wasn’t sure about (mostly ones with stepbacks instead of clinch covers) in a pile to think about some more. I also used this as an incentive to deliberately display these books I kept purely for visual purposes, which actually makes me really happy when I look at them on my shelves! I’m so pleased with how it turned out.
All told, I got rid of more than half of my Jude Deveraux books and about half of my Johanna Lindsey books. I got rid of the Clayborne Brides series from Julie Garwood since my recent attempt to reread the first one was so disastrous, but I did keep the other four of hers that I had (they’re all fairly popular). I also got rid of all of the Judith McNaughts that I had, since I was never a particular fan of hers (I just knew she was popular and that a lot of people who liked Jude Deveraux liked her), as well as the few Kathleen Woodiwiss books I had. The only exception is A Rose in Winter, which I recently reread/skimmed and didn’t especially love, but the cover is stunning and I have too many good memories of it to let go.
I did in fact keep all of the Patricia Cabot books — I kind of like the idea of rereading those and seeing what I think (also, those kindle books are a fortune on Amazon, assuming they even have them). Surprisingly, though, I got rid of most of the Mary Balogh books! I had the full Huxtable quintet, but the descriptions weren’t that interesting and they didn’t pop up as some of her better works, plus my library has kindle copies available, so they went in the donation pile. So did the few Mistress books I had and the Simply quartet (also available at my library). I did keep the three Bedwyn books I have and their two prequels, though (I love A Summer to Remember), and I think I want to reread them sometime in the near-ish future, so they’re hanging out on a reread shelf with the Patricia Cabot books.
I think the big motivator for me in being able to get rid of a lot of these books was knowing that they weren’t particularly special editions and if I panic and decide it was all a mistake, I’ll be totally happy swapping these editions out for different ones. I guess theoretically I might not be able to buy physical copies, but frankly, I’m highly skeptical that these would live up to the standards of the rest of my books that I keep. The number of books whose descriptions mentioned how virile and experienced the hero was was rather off putting, and there were a disturbing number of westerns that I can’t imagine had good Native representation. In fact, based on the premise alone, I know a lot of them were rather awful, and I’m totally fine letting those go. (That said, I did keep Savage Thunder — that book really imprinted on me and I’d like to hang on to it, but I would never recommend it and can’t say I’d even reread it myself.) My research also indicated that a lot of the books I donated have a lot of rape in them, too, and there were a lot of one-star reviews at the top of Goodreads when I checked them. So I suspect the chances that I will want to reread a lot of these books are pretty low, let alone that I’ll love them so much that I need copies of them on my shelves.
I still have a ton of books left, but for now, I’m much happier with how much shelf space they take up. I do have them spread out some, especially so I can display the covers, but I think I can condense them all into less than three cubbies, which is about half of what I had before. That combined with some other rearrangements I did on my shelves means that I currently have a lot of space I’m not quite sure what to do with, but it’s a good problem to have!
All told, I now have about four or five shelves of nostalgic books I’m keeping from when I was in high school or college, which is kind of a lot. Plus there’s the shelves of Tamora Pierce and Rick Riordan books. Actually, wow, I have a lot of books that I haven’t read in 10+ years, which is kind of wild, now that I think about it. Then again, I read a TON of books growing up, and this is probably a pretty tiny fraction of it. It’s definitely something to be aware of going forward. I should probably do a better job of weeding down my books and keeping my collection tightly curated, though it helps having a set amount of shelf space that I don’t want to expand past.
Let me know if you’d be interested in a closer tour of my nostalgic favorites. Not just the historical romances, but all of the shelves I consider my nostalgia ones. There are a lot of good ones in there!