Nov 19

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

This week we talk about the painful exercise of culling your library when you just have too many books. Also, A Novel Cure and Empress Dowager Cixi.


Help us play publisher:


Two books I can't wait for you to read

We’re thinking about organizing another Books on the Nightstand book for 2014, and we’d love your ideas. We had such fun putting together Two Books I Can’t Wait For You To Read and Two Books I Can’t Wait For You To Read, Volume Two. Your book recommendations have given us two great books that we look at often. Should we publish a volume 3?  We will need your participation, so if you think we should go a different direction, we’d love to hear your ideas.

You may also consider this a reminder that our previous books are still available. You can order copies via links on our Shop BOTNS page.

Please leave your ideas for our next book in the comments of the show notes (use this link if you get this via email) by the end of December. Thanks!


audiobooks.comAudiobook of the week (07:18)


Havisham Havisham by Ronald Frame, narrated by Anne Flosnick is my pick for this week’s Audiobook of the Week.

Special thanks to for sponsoring this episode of Books on the Nightstand. allows you to listen to over 40,000 audiobooks, instantly, wherever you are, and the first one is free. Download or stream any book directly to your Apple or Android device. Sign up for a free 7-day trial and free audiobook download by going to


How to cull a library (10:26)


Listener Colleen, an avid book collector for most of her life, asks how to begin culling her library. Michael and I are faced with this problem quite often, and we’ve put together a few tips:

  1. Start with your ‘”impulse” purchases. If you can’t remember why you bought a particular book, or if you can’t remember ever buying it in the first place, get rid of it.
  2. When possible, donate to an organization that will make you feel good about the donation.
  3. If you are not a habitual re-reader, keep only your very, very favorites to re-read.
  4. Incentivize your culling: for every x books you donate, allow yourself to buy one new book. Note: this should not be a 1:1 ratio.
  5. Or do the reverse: tell yourself that for every book you keep, you have to donate a certain number. Once you’ve donated your target number, allow yourself a new book.
  6. Don’t take a job in publishing, bookselling, or book blogging. The books replicate faster than you can cull.

Do you have any tips? Let us know in the comments.


Two books we can’t wait for you to read (22:38)


The Novel Cure  Empress Dowager Cixi

Michael’s recommendation this week is called The Novel Cure: From Abandonment to Zestlessness, 751 Books to Cure wWhat Ails You. This is a collection of reading “prescriptions” –all novels, from classic to contemporary — to get you out of a funk and make you feel better, no matter what your ailment. Lack of seduction skills? Try Richard Mason’s History of a Pleasure Seeker. There are also several great lists of books: the 10 Best Break Up Novels, for example. There are also recommendations for “reading ailments” — one of which is “Overwhelmed by the number of books in your house.” The prescription: cull your library.

I am currently reading (and definitely recommend) Empress Dowager Cixi by Jung Chang, who you may know from her brilliant Wild Swans. Cixi was a Chinese ruler who had a reputation for being ruthless and vengeful, but Jung Chang has tapped an array of original sources to turn that perception on its head. Instead, the author says, Cixi was a smart ruler who was responsible for bringing China into the modern century. After launching a coup against the men who were installed to guide the 5-year-old Emperor in ruling China, she took command, ruling mostly from behind a silk screen. Cixi was responsible for the end of foot binding; she brought current technology to the military weapons, brought the railroads to China, and was very involved in domestic and foreign affairs.

  • Elizabeth

    Great show! I can’t wait to read these two books. I just wanted to mention that Cixi is not pronounced like sue-she. Ci starts with a ts sound and ends with the schwa (ə) sound and Xi sounds like she. So the pronunciation is something like tsə-she. This pinyin pronunciation guide is pretty decent – Anchee Min’s Empress Orchid is a heavily fictionalized account of Empress Dowager Cixi’s life and is just fantastic.

  • Suzanne

    A bit tongue-in-cheek, but my best suggestion on culling a library is to move.When I moved from Winnipeg to Chicago 14 years ago, I allowed myself to bring only three boxes of books, and it took over a month to decide which ones were move-worthy. I was left with 7 boxes of books which I donated to the Children’s Hospital in Winnipeg who conduct an annual fund-raising book sale.
    We won’t talk about the number of books I have now; let’s just say I will need six months to cull down to three boxes again :-)

  • GabiCoatsworth

    One of the main reasons I started using Goodreads is so that I can record what I’ve read before I give books away. Then I found out about scanning books in, setting up To-read lists, and reviewing, and I haven’t looked back. I think I’ve given away about 400 books this year. :)

  • Carol Kubala

    I’ve got my money ready to buy the next Books On The Nightstand publication. I love the idea of putting out feelers for our ideas but also know I’ll be kept awake nights trying to come up with something new. There are always new choices for Two Books I Can’t Wait for You to Read and this would be fine with me.

    My initial idea springs from your topic of culling books in today’s podcast. Two Books I’ve Always Meant to Read but Haven’t. I’m not thinking books like my recent reveal that I’ve never read Jane Austen but a book or two that has always appealed to my reading self but somehow or other I’ve never actually read. There it sits on my shelf…

    2. We Read Short Shorts – So many BOTNS fans have taken up Ann’s short story challenge. Perhaps they’d like to share a few of the best.

    3. Most of the books that have been recommended have been fiction. I’d love non-fiction favorites but that may be just me.

    4. Two Childhood favorites – Two Books to Give a Tyke or some such…

    5. Two Character I Can’t Forget

    Someone else chime in here please!

    • Robin

      Great suggestions.


      I love the idea of childhood favorites!

  • Linda

    Picking up from Carol… (and put in whatever number fits, one, two, etc.)

    Two books that you wish that you read for the first time again.

    Two characters you most identify with.

    Two books you are an evangelist for.

    Two books you didn’t think you’d like, but loved.

    The book(s) you would want if on a deserted island

    Children’s books I have loved (to help our Christmas giving, even though this would be for Christmas 2015.

    The book I think everyone should read.

    Someone else’s turn.

    Oh, and I liked the second year where next to the names was a code for which Booktopia(s) the person would be attending. I know some people didn’t make it, but it still helped matching a person’s name with where I met them.

    • Carol Kubala

      Lots of good thoughts here Linda. I particularly like

      Two characters you most identify with and Two books you didn’t think you’d like, but loved.

      • Tina

        I really like “Two books you didn’t think you’d like, but loved”.
        Considering the voting that has been going on this month, what about incorporating similar categories? We could suggest our favorite books by genre: Fantasy, graphic novel, etc.

  • Renee DesRoberts

    How about “Two characters you’ve loved (or loved to hate!)” That could be pretty fun…

  • Susie

    I would love to see a book of short essays from readers on one book (perhaps THE one book or a just A BOOK–I know I have a few options) that has had the most impact on them as people, as readers, etc. Just a short 250-500 word essay (I volunteer to help Michael edit).

    I also like a couple of the other ideas in the comments:

    Two characters I can’t forgot.
    Two books you didn’t think you’d like but ended up loving!
    Two books you’d want on a desert island.
    Two books you think everyone should read.

  • Kendra

    Just another terrific episode! Thank you so much!
    During the segment about culling your library, Ann mentioned that it might take a little sting out of letting those books go if you donate them to a good home. One of the places I ran across not too long ago is the network Better World Books through That website gives instructions on how to donate books – apparently you just box up your books, send an email to, they in return send you a label to put on your box to send it by UPS and Better World Books covers the cost of shipping! They have guidelines for the books that will be accepted, and which types not to send (most of which you wouldn’t expect to donate anyway). The little free library donates the books to BWB who sorts them, sells some online, ships others around the world to non-profit groups like Invisible Children, Books for Africa, Room to Read in Asia, World Fund in Latin America and National Fund for Family Literacy in the US, as well as the Little Free Libraries across the country. I’m already feeling a little better about letting go of some of these piles!

    • Yellowbelly

      Re: Two Books we can’t wait for you to Read.
      On BBC Radio 4 they have a segment called ‘Inheritance Tracks’ where guests speak about 2 pieces of music that have significance to them. The description on the site is “Celebrating the music that special guests would like to bestow to future generations” .Usually the guests pick a track from their past, it can be inherited from a family member or friend but not necessarily. But it must have significant memories from the guests history perhaps of the time, a notable event or an important relationship etc. The second track would be something you would want to pass on, or maybe have already to a child, friend, lover etc and the reasons why. It can be quite revealing and people often make most unexpected choices. Well this could be extended to books. The books may not be your favourite read or even a book that you would recommend to everyone but they would be important books and with a small description of why you chose them would make for an interesting read.

  • Rashawn

    I have a book suggestion It is an awesome read

  • Denise

    Please consider making these books available digitally. Chronic illness makes it difficult to impossible to read from paper books anymore.

  • Brittany

    The way I’ve most recently culled my bookshelf is when I moved – I attempted to read through each one (yea, right!) and make the determination there. I have so many that I haven’t read – plus, I’ve been keeping them packed up until I actually read them. It’s slow going, but I’ve culled out a good number.

    Not enough for my SO though, who’s a big fan of e-books!! He refused to move another box of books after this move.

  • KatieLoss

    I, too, have a massive culling problem and some of the suggestions here and on the podcast may just get me to move a few books. I’m with Ann, I’m an impulse book buyer! I’m definitely going to check out Kendra’s suggestion of

    As for the next BOTNS publication. I particularly like: a non-fiction edition; childhood favorites; characters. My idea is “Books Where I Live and Travel”. Favorite books with your city or region as setting or set in a country that you have visited. When I travel I am always looking for good novels to immerse me in the location I’m visiting, either fiction or non-fiction.

  • Tracy Slater

    Tx for the show, as usual.

    I’d be most likely to read a Books on the Nightstand volume of 2 Books if it included more than just titles, b/c just titles would make it feel like just a list or a reference book, not necessarily something that would be fun in the process of reading it. However, if it included something like 2 Books I Can’t Wait for You to Read + a favorite line from each book (so each reader/suggester would give 2 favorite books and then a favorite line from each of those books) that would probably grab me, b/c it would be a combo reference book and collection of really smart/fascinating one-liners that would be fun to read through in themselves.

  • Pingback: BOTNS #257: Reading Opens Minds | Books on the Nightstand

  • ryanludman

    I think it would be great to see a book of lists of everyone’s dream lineup for a Booktopia event. Who would everyone invite if they could invite 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 authors to a Booktopia. These authors could be living or dead.

  • JoAnne Stein

    As I was listening to this podcast I had an idea for the 2 Books compilation and it was to recommend books that haven’t been mentioned on the podcast this year. Or maybe a better way of phrasing it would be 2 Obscure Books I Can’t Wait For You to Read or Books No One Has Heard Of/Underrated Books. I love discovering little known gems of books and would love a collection from prolific readers such as the listeners of BOTN.

  • Sharon

    Sorry this is a late post but here are 2 suggestions about culling a library…ask someone who is not a book collector because we are not objective enough and let your friends pick books they might like to read and keep. You MIT be able to visit them or borrow them in the future.

  • Dana Marie Marquart

    I really love your show and HATE that I’m just now getting caught up since before Thanksgiving! But I just heard your challenge to come up with a new ‘theme’ for volume 3 and, even though I’m sure someone else has already thought of this idea, I HAVE to suggest “Two Books That I Wish I Could LIVE In”. Imagine touring Florence with George Emerson, solving The Westing Game with Turtle, or – even better – leaping from classic to classic Thursday Next style! Call me an escapist, but the best novels make me feel like I’m living with the characters, and I’m curious which of these lives were favorites of my fellow listeners.

preload preload preload