On Building A Personal Library: Attempts At Decolonizing My Shelves

personal library blog pic

I’ll be graduating soon and for the first time ever, really, I will not be spending most of my book money on course literature. Which is not to say that many of these books were not ones I enjoyed and want to keep, but some were indeed books I lugged around with me from place to place and never touched after the term paper was handed in. So in considering the current state of my shelves, how much I’ve grown as a reader and a person over the last years and also that I will probably be moving again sometime this year, well I decided it was a good time to start thinking about building a personal library.

My first step will be getting rid of more books (no worries, I’ll donate them). I’ve been sorting out books over the last year and frankly, it has been a relief. Not beholden to any institution or reading list any longer, I started looking through my bookstacks, yes also those in the very back, and found that about half of my library is made up of classics, dudebro lit and other mainstream white works. And so, I find my shelves are in desperate need of decolonizing.

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case in point

Why do this? For me, this is a project of personal growth and working at transformation and social justice. It’s not a corset I’m trying to make myself fit into, or strange restrictions to make my reading life harder. This is who I am and who I hope to be and I want to surround myself with the thoughts and experiences of other people at the margins. I want to look at my shelves as a how-to on transformation, a place of support and an archive of knowledge.

Consider this an intro post, because writing about building a personal library is something I want come back to more often in the coming months, partly to document my progress (yes, there will be pics) and partly to think more on various specific building blocks. These are the acquisition of backlists of my favorite writers, secondary literature and non-fiction on race, feminism, food justice and history of medicine, and novels by women of color and further intersections beyond the few core texts I have. An example is that I have started to look for German writers of color, which is much more difficult than it should be and so I need to educate myself on where to find these works because I want to connect more with my own history. Hopefully, decolonizing my shelves will go hand in hand with decolonizing my mind. Big words, but this is necessary.

What’s the start of your personal library? Are you happy with it or do you have any plans?

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48 thoughts on “On Building A Personal Library: Attempts At Decolonizing My Shelves

  1. I always feel so sad when I have to give away books, whether I have enjoyed them or not. Good luck with decolonising your shelves. That’s a nice term. And yes, these days even I search for books and find them. Good luck finding the books you are searching for. A personal library is such a matter of pride

    And welcome back.

    1. Thanks, Resh! Yes, a personal library is just the dream for bookworms I think 🙂 I’ve gotten better at giving away books, if I know I dont want them anymore it’s great to think other people will love getting them.

  2. Since I graduated a little over a year ago, I’ve also been working to make my library a lot less white, and a lot more informative. For most of my younger years, I barely read nonfiction unless I had to, and I’ve been trying really hard to get out of that habit first, and picking ones that are by and/or about POC.

    1. Thanks or stopping by, Ceillie! Yay that’s awesome, hope your library project is going well! 🙂 I’ve mostly had the nonfiction covered in uni and so didn’t seek out as much in my fun reading, but ave learned to better balance. It’s really about finding the right topic, I think, hope you’ve found some good ones. I’ve done a few nonfiction posts (shameless self-promo 😀 ).

      1. A lot of times, I couldn’t handle the seriousness of non fiction so I stuck with fiction whenever possible. I’ll have to check out your archive! I have found some good ones, mostly memoirs and biographies.

        1. Yeah I have to admit I am usually reading nonfiction that is social justice and things are crap let’s change them 🙂 But I think if you ike memoirs, then there are several good, funny ones by poc. Issa Rae for example.

  3. “dudebro lit” 😀 😀 😀 haven’t come across that term before, so thank you very much for introducing me to it, and also for making it up if you are its originator, and even if you aren’t, tyvm for using it!

    and much as I love books, and have vague dreams of having a big library one day, with a roaring fire et all, thanks to an awesome library system, I find I have a sort of lackadaisical approach to buying books. . . I generally always buy non-fiction over fiction ‘cus that’s what I MUST have on hand for when the craving hits me. . . so I have poetry that’s meaningful to me, a couple of non-fiction that I/husband have enjoyed/like talking about, and fiction that I generally cannot lay my hands else wise other than buying!

    Anyhoos, congrats on graduating–hope you’ve had a meaningful journey! And all the best for all the new in your life–including this personal library project!

    1. Thanks so much for your lovely comment, Juhi! Haha I’m not sure if someone’s come up with it before, I feel that has to be the case because it fits so well! 🙂
      That’s so interesting that you go for non-fiction first! I do want that roaring fire library!! But yeah nonfiction has to be in there. I also bought many books because I didn’t have access to them otherwise, but since I got Scribd I’m a bit more relaxed about it and like to save the money for “that perfect read” 🙂
      Heh thank, loved grad school, twice!

  4. I love that you are claiming the books that speak to you now, and letting go of the ones that don’t. May we all look at our shelves with that same intention. Best of luck!

  5. Wonderful post, Bina! The books in the picture all look wonderful. Though dudebro as you have said 🙂 Hope you have a wonderful time building your library! I can’t wait to find out what books you are planning to include! Congratulations on graduating:)

    1. Thanks so much, Vishy! Hahaha yes totally dudebro lit. But I’m happy to give them to you if you’d like them! 🙂 Thanks, just one more month of uni, can’t believe it! Heh cannot wait to buy more books I love.

  6. Yaay! Good luck with building your library. Have fun while you do it. And Congratulations on graduating!

  7. The start of my library was just books I loved. And the earliest entries are romance novels that I loved. Then, as a nontraditional student, lots of the books I read and loved in college. And, yes, a lot of books that I didn’t love, too. But I kept everything. Now, fifteen years since I graduated from college, I feel the need to slough off the books that I don’t love. I have really been struggling with that idea of getting rid of my books!
    I may have to write a post about it later on, so thank you for giving me this idea.

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Loreen! Hope you post your thoughts on changing the books on your shelves 🙂 It’s true your library tells your story, so I understand not wanting to get rid of these books. I finally embraced getting rid of books I don’t reread and don’t like that much, since that means I have space for those I love. But it’s also comforting to think that by donating them, oher people will perhaps find books they love.

  8. I love the idea of decolonizing a bookshelf. I recently graduated too, and now that I read this, I realize that most (not all, thankfully) of what I had to read in college were classics and mainstream white works. Yet the books I choose to read are so far from that. For the most part, the only books I read in college by or about people of color were from classes where the professor was also of color. And I can’t think of any books I was required to read in school with LGBTQ characters. I think I’ll have to decolonize my bookshelf too!

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Daniel! Yay congrats on graduating!! 🙂 I have just 1 month left. Yes college often lands books on your shelves that you wouldn’t otherwise buy. I had some awesome classes but also of course lots of introductory stuff that wasn’t as exciting. I wish I had more professors of color! Enjoy decolonizing your shelves and restocking it with LGBTQ lit!

  9. I love this project, and even just thinking about what kind of books one might wish to have in their own personal library. For myself, I have been building my CanLit library quite a bit since starting my blog and it has made me very happy. I hope you’re able to find the ones you want, and toss the ones you don’t!
    And, congratulations on your graduation! 🙂

    1. Thanks Naomi, I have just 1 month left 🙂 Your CanLit shelves sound amazing, I definitely need to read more of that, there’s such great Canadian poc lit I haven’t read yet. For now I’m actually enjoying giving away books, it’s somewhat freeing!

  10. Yes, what a gorgeous idea. I’m glad this is only the introductory post because I want to see this entire process. My personal library is much smaller than it was before I moved…but it’s only natural because a lot of the books in it were not mine. I miss it so much sometimes, but my tiny library is charming. I should post more pictures of it on Twitter.
    I look forward to seeing your personal library grow. And I hope you discover more works by Germans of color.

    1. Thnks, Naz! Haha I will take you all through my entire process, so you can decide if I’m strange or it’s an okay thing to give away so many books 😀 Yes, I love the pics o your tiny libray, and it is growing quickly I think 🙂 I hope your library will soon grow into an amazing diverse archive!
      Oh I really hope I’ll find more German poc lit, it’s really depressing me. Google doesn’t get me much and in English the first hit is my own post 😦 I need to stalk some phd student here, just have to find the right one 😉

  11. Totally get this, I’ve got rid of lots of books that one was supposed to read, books that never spoke to me, many of them so called classics and now the shelves are filling with translations and more books from around the world, not just what was found in bookstores of old. Good Luck with the process and enjoy!

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Claire! Yay good to hear you’ve sorted out so many “must reads” and are happier for it! I have to say so far it’s really freeing and a relieve to get rid of books. Love that your shelves are filled with translated works! I hope I’ll get to read more translated works in the future, there’s so much that gets translated into German.

  12. “Decolonizing” your shelves, I love this! What a brilliant way to state your goals. I have reached a point in my life where my book collection has become too large and I want to weed it down to something much more meaningful and curated. I hardly buy books at all these days and usually borrow from the public library. When I do buy a book lately it has mostly been poetry or poetry related.

    1. Thanks, Stefanie! I hope you’ll also enjoy curating your library, I’m finding it a great experience 🙂 I’m always so envious of people who have a good library nearby, it’s wonderful to find your reads there. I need to read more poetry, a goal for the second half of the year I think 🙂

  13. I’m horrible at getting rid of books. I don’t mind weeding through my other possessions but I’m so stuck on my books that I hardly think to inhaul them. I consciously started my personal library with the Chronicle of Narnia books. I wanted to collect my fav childhood books and I expanded from there. I’d like to curate my shelves to reflect what I enjoy but I find it hard to give up even books I hate. #booknerdproblems

    1. Haha, oh yes it is tough with books especially! What helps me is that I give my books away to little libraries or donate them and hope they’ll find a reader who appreciates them more 🙂 Love the idea of collecting childhood favorites! I have a few that I bought since mostly my parents didn’t have the money so we used to always borrow them from the library.

  14. I’m in the exact same position – since starting my English lit degree my bookshelves have become horribly white, male, and middle-class. :/ Can’t wait to decolonise my bookshelves in a year’s time!

    1. Thanks for stopping by! 🙂 Oh yes, isn’t it frustrating? I’ve always chosen classes that were about race and gender but those intro courses and requirements really are tough on the bookshelf I want. I’m sure you know the drill. Hope you’ll enjoy decolonizing the shelves and hang in there, you’ll get to change things soon!! 🙂

  15. Another thought-provoking post – and I love the idea of “decolonizing your bookshelves/personal library.” I have a large personal library, one that I’ve been cultivating for many years; a bit of a lifelong curatorial process. I began before the internet or ebooks existed and even though I prune my collection regularly, and borrow some books from the library, I can always justify another book purchase! About five years ago I let go of a lot of books that were unofficially labeled “ought to read”‘s – when I realized I was allowing outside ideas about “good reading” too much presence in my mind and on my shelves. I look forward to following your process, Bina!

    1. Thanks so much, Leslie! Your library sounds absolutely amazing and good on you to get rid of those supposed “must reads”, I have a lot of those on my shelves as well. It feels so much better to stop with those “rules” doesn’t it? Wish I could browse your library 🙂
      Oh by the way, I got The Jemima Code, because I think it was you who recommended it to me! So thanks, I’m very excited to read it after uni 🙂

  16. Whoop whoop! Your decolonizing project is fab, and I do not think you will regret tossing out a few of the Brooklyn Jonathans (a term I shall now apply to all dudebro literary writers of the new millennium that I personally find trying as humans). PLUS I am obv always in favor of you telling me more awesome nonfiction recommendations.

    1. Thanks Jenny!😃 Ahaha Brooklyn Jonathan, I know just what you mean!!😂 Yeah I think my library will be better off without them. Heh I will absolutely spam you with nonfiction recs! Can’t wait to get more and so Glad there’s finally paperback versions of most that I can almost afford.

  17. Good luck with it! My personal library is mostly virtual now. I’m an ebook addict. I have a few paper books around, but most of them are in boxes in my basement from when we moved (probably with my old diaries!). I’ve lugged around my books from college and law school, but I’m not sure I’ve looked at them since graduating (with one or two exceptions).

    1. Oh ebooks are great and it’s so much easier to move with them😂 I love using the e-Book format for books I want to read but books I love I need to have in paperback. But I’m glad literature comes in many forms now!

  18. Thanks for sharing this with us. I tend to buy books that I’ve already read and loved or by authors I’m already enamoured with. The exception is during library sales where I let myself grab books that seem interesting because it’s for a good cause. But yes in recent years I’ve been working towards more books by Southeast Asian authors, Asian authors, and some series by amazing writers like NK Jemisin.

    1. Yes that sounds like a great strategy 😃 An archive of AsianAm lit, that’s wonderful! Definitely letting myself be inspired by your list when I’m getting some new books!

  19. I’ve always depended on the library for books, but off late, especially after starting a book Instagram, I’ve started to hoard books. I buy books that I know for a fact I’ll re-read in future. The decolonizing of my shelves is going to be a huge task once I finish uni and have to move back home since my parents have no clue about my book-buying adventures! Good luck to you 🙂

    1. Thanks for stopping by, shonanzee! Heh yeah bookstagram does wonders for your personal library 🙂 That sounds like a huge task, hope your parents won’t be too shocked! Good luck with decolonizing your shelves!

    1. Thanks for stopping by! Heh I am getting better at getting rid of books. To me it makes a difference which books I am giving away and also that I’m donating them, so it’s not like I’m thowing them away 🙂

  20. We have far too many books! I know that sounds like an impossibility, and we do still keep buying new ones, but we have many more books than we could ever read (or reread, which I love doing) in a couple, at least, of lifetimes!
    But when we start to try to clear them out, we don’t make much of a dent! And it takes so long because we stop and browse in them… I think we’re hopeless cases, but good luck with your overhaul, Bina! And many congratulations on coming to the end of your studies! xx

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