ASK THE ROGUES: When do you know you’ve got too many books?

by | Mar 15, 2023 | Gayle Lynds, The Writer's Life | 10 comments

by Gayle Lynds

Why have I never counted my books?

When my first husband and I married, we moved from place to place, buying books and more books as we went. We ended up in Santa Barbara where I gave birth to two wonderful kids who loved to read, and so of course we bought more books. When their father and I divorced, I kept the kids’ books and took my half of the adult collection. When do you know you’ve got too many books? There were so many, I was curious. I was tempted to count them.

Part of Gayle’s beloved research library.

But then I married again, and with the wedding came two great stepdaughters and more books. A lot more, because my new husband was a writer, too. Just looking at all those volumes was exhausting. But also very, very tempting. Not only to read immediately, but to count.

After my second husband passed away, I moved to Maine to be with John Sheldon, my terrific third (and last) husband. Advice: Never move books across the continent. Oh, the painful choices of what to keep and what to donate. The moving company lost money because they underestimated how much my many, many books weighed. Everything happened so fast I hadn’t had time to count them.

What a reader John is, too. Of course he has his own books. I’d say we have enough books now. More than enough. But we still keep reading and buying and, er, keeping…. 

When do you know you‘ve got enough books, Rogues? I can’t seem to figure it out….


OK. I read this question over a few times, and it still does not compute. Enough books? Is there even such a thing? Rogues, help me out here. Is there some book limit I’m unaware of? If so, fie, I say, fie!

There’s always room for another book or ten. You may have to rearrange your TBR pile once or twice a year when your bookshelf begins to buckle, but as far as not buying new books because your bookshelf might buckle is a thing that cannot and will not happen in this house. As a matter of fact, I’m thinking about buying more books as I write this.

So many titles, so many good stories, so many wonderful writers.

Tracy’s stuffed bookcase offers inspiration.

The photo I’ve attached is just one bookshelf in my den. My writing desk is right in front of it. When my writing session falters and every word I type stinks up the place, I can swivel around and pluck something far better off the stack. There are a few more shelves around my place just as full.

Hey, wait a minute. I just realized there are more books in this house than there are breathing people in it. Huh. Weird. Mind blown. Still, I’m cool with that.


Chris buys and keeps adding more bookcases.

Can you ever have too many books?

We are just settling into our new house and have unpacked about one tenth of the books we own. We did downsize, but books are hard to part with. A quick look at my shelves found two with 1883 pub dates—one Swedish children’s book, my great grandmother’s; the other, The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne, handed down from my husband’s great grandfather.

The newest acquisition—A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles—was my grandson’s favorite read of 2022. When he was young, Hunter didn’t like to read, so I sent him a friend’s book—The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan. We read it together, and then Hunter kept reading. Sixteen years later, he is broadening my world, and giving me a peek into the mind of the man he has become.

Looking through my collection, I realize that most of the books on my shelves tell more than the story written on their pages. They chronicle lifetimes of reading. Pinocchio, the first BIG book my father read to me. My Mother West Wind “How” Stories, my Nancy Drew novels, and shelves of books written by friends. My books!

Hey, we can—and will—always build more bookshelves!


My first official answer is: “I don’t understand the question.” ;D

But when I think about it, my answer is this: I have lots of bookshelves in my office. I also have a Harry Potter style bookshelf downstairs that hides the vacuum closet under the stairs (see photo). And I like to decorate with books as well—a stack on my night stand, coffee table books in the crisscross wood stacker next to the fireplace instead of the decorative birch it was built to hold.

When I start to run out of space and, as happened last month, when my kids clean out their closets and hand me a stack of books they read as youngsters and don’t intend to keep, that’s when I donate.

Our nearest town has a—get this—drive-through liquor store. But not only can you buy booze when the garage door opens and you pull inside the lane, there’s also a probably fifty-foot-long wall of donated books from locals for sale. Hardcovers cost a dollar, paperbacks 50 cents. All proceeds—over $40k as of last December—go to the local library’s renovation.    

Guess what’s behind Tosca’s bookcase!


Lisa’s goal is a bookcase like this.

Lack of funds, for most of my life, kept me getting my books from the library, so my collection isn’t vast. I have four sets of bookshelves, plus two more in a closet, but some spaces are equal parts books, photos and memorabilia. Plus I hate clutter, so excess would be donated.

However, my goal now is to move to a larger house in Tennessee where I plan to finally have a library, a room lined with bookcases and a big comfy chair in which to read them as colored leaves fall gently outside the window. The photo shows what I aspire to.

With that in mind, I’m hanging on to every book I accumulate—sorry, charity thrift stores. My room might not look like something out of a movie, but I’m going to try my best. 


In one of my earliest memories, I am sitting on a drafty window seat in my childhood home, reading Jane Eyre. I was maybe eight and a child, but I was also a grown woman moving into a hostile new home. It was dark out and gloomy-weathered…or was it like that in the book?

For me there is no clear dividing line. And because each book I curl up with takes me to new worlds, into new lives, there is no such thing as too many.

How many times can we live? Books give us a kind of immortality. They give us eternity. With books, we live forever.

Jenny explains, “Books give us a kind of immortality.”


Karna’s book collection is vast,
and she donates so others can enjoy them, too.

I have so many books in our home here in Naples, Florida, that I have arranged them, along with photos and other accessories on approximately TWELVE different bookshelves throughout the house. Here’s a picture of one to give you an idea. However, when I accumulated a stack of paperbacks and audio books (that I listen to in the car) I have recently arranged 5 gift baskets that I donated to different charities for their silent auctions.

In our home up in Washington, DC, we had so many books that I filled 8 boxes and donated them all to the Salvation Army.  (I would have given them to the library, but because of Covid, they haven’t been collecting them for a while.) Bottom line: books are wonderful to inspire the imagination, entice the reader to “travel virtually,” educate, entertain and then donate so others can enjoy them as well.


There have always been signs that perhaps I have enough books. Like when friends walk into my living room, take one glance at the overflowing built-in bookcase, and say, “Wow! Have you really read all those?” My usual answer is, “No, but I’m working on it.” And I suspect it’s also a sign when all the bookcases in your house are overflowing. But I prefer thinking it’s simply a sign I need more bookcases.

Too many books or not enough bookcases?

Click here to start collecting now!

Dear Rogue Readers … We’d love to hear about any of your favorite books!

Don’t Miss a Thing!



  1. Lisa Blac

    I’m with Tracy! Fie! One should keep as many books as space allows.

    I’m also very envious of Tosca’s Harry Potter bookcase. Maybe I should put one of those in my next house too…!

    • Gayle Lynds

      Fie? Fie? Shouldn’t it be italicized? 😀 And yes, please, I’d LOVE one of those bookcases that hide stuff. Good on Tosca!

  2. Tosca Lee

    Tracy said fie. 😃

    • Gayle Lynds

      I’m so totally amused by “fie,” Tosca. Only authors would think of that. Thanks, Tracy. I’ll bet we have that word in a bunch of our books, too.

      • Jenny Milchman

        Oh my goodness, bookshelves buckling, and Tosca’s secret wall and that picture Lisa has to tram of and work toward and Gayle’s Spousehood of the Travelling Books…I LOVE this piece. It did something the best books do for me–made me itch to start writing and add to people’s Piles!

        • Gayle Lynds

          I had the same reaction, Jenny. I really loved all the contributions. So much fun and honest and adoring of books, it made me happy all the way through.

  3. Gayle Lynds

    I loved the variety of answers. Since I still have my Bobbsey Twins books from childhood, I’m a book keeper, but at the same time, I also donate and give them away because I’m now too old to build bookcases. Where am I gonna put more bookcases???? 😛

  4. Karna Small Bodman

    Reading about the books collected by my Rogue colleagues shows me that I’m certainly not alone in collecting (keeping and donating) SO many books! When I especially looked at Lisa Blacks jam-packed-up-to the-ceiling bookshelves, I thought to myself – that collection’s really vast (not “half-vast” to coin a humorous term). Thanks, Gayle for a great blog.

    • Gayle Lynds

      You know, Karna, you made me wonder how many basketball courts we could fill if we Rogues put all of our books in one space. Beautiful! So many wonderful books to contemplate!

  5. Gayle Lynds

    I’m so totally amused by “fie.” Only authors would think of that. Thanks, Tracy. I’ll bet we have that word in a bunch of our books, too.