I saw the other day that Marie Kondo has a new show on Netflix, in which she goes into people’s homes and tells them what to throw out. This, apparently, includes books, which means I will never, ever watch this show, any more than I have read her book, The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up. (Although reading the reviews in that link is kind of a joy in itself.)
Now, I’m not saying tidying up and clearing out isn’t a good thing. It is, and as a person who moves a lot (a lot), I do a certain amount of clearing out on a regular basis. But hands off my books. *she says in a threatening manner, while wielding a bookmark in one hand and a box set of Calvin and Hobbes in the other*
For those of you who haven’t come across Marie Kondo, her basic premise is that we should de-clutter our homes by getting rid of anything that doesn’t spark joy. Which, you know, fair enough. No point hanging on to that porcelain duck that your Great-Aunt Hetty gave you because she was convinced it was cursed. And if you want to interpret the whole joy thing a bit more widely, while I’m not sure my winter boots spark joy, I do find a certain joy in having un-frostbitten toes, and although some of my mugs are so chipped they spark a little regret for reckless mug-stacking, when filled with tea they definitely bring joy. Either way I’m not getting rid of my boots (or my mugs) just because they don’t make me go all warm and fuzzy every time I look at them. There are such considerations as practicality, after all.
But back to books. I mean, they’re not practical, are they? E-readers are practical. You can store so many books on those suckers, and they take up absolutely no space, and are very sleek and un-dog-eared or faded, so I imagine they’d rate well on any scale of minimalism and tidiness (as long as no one looks inside, at the mountains of DNFs, meant-to-reads, really-am-going-to-reads, and why-did-buy-thises). Physical books, on the other hand, take up a lot of space. They fade. Spines crack. Pages fall out. They’re heavy if you’re moving about a lot. They don’t tend to present a minimalist-friendly face to the world, unless you’re one of those monsters who store them all spine-in.
And joy … Well, yes, I have read some books that have sparked joy. I’ve also read books that have made me furious, scared me in monster-under-the-bed or this-is-our-world sort of ways, or made me cry. Books are not all joy. Sometimes they’re challenging, or frightening, and if they’re very, very good they can be all of these things at once. So to pick up an individual book and say, “This brings me joy,” isn’t the truth a lot of the time.
But books plural. Now that is a different beast altogether.
You see over there? That’s not a wall of individual books, to be picked out and judged one by one. Over there are memories, and revelations, and learning, and a hundred different worlds and views waiting to drag you in. There’s joy and horror and excitement and sorrow all in one place. There are worlds you’re never seen and paths you’ve never walked, and ones you’ve trod in your reading so often that they’re as familiar as your own reading chair. There are old friends and old enemies and new ways of seeing the world.
Look closer. See that shelf, there? I’ve read them all. I may reread them, or I may not, and it’ll be years before I get back to them if I do, but every time I look at them I’m reminded how much fun I had between those pages.
And this shelf, behind the chair? These are books I read and didn’t love, but am keeping them to give to someone who will (because someone will). And some are books that were given to me that I didn’t like, but I’ll pass them on, because almost every book has a reader, somewhere. Maybe every book.
This shelf – well, this shelf is full of books that I’m going to read at some stage. There are some over there, and over there, too. They’re everywhere. I’ve seen them in some shop and picked them up, but the time hasn’t been right to read them yet. It will be at some point, or it won’t, but right now they just sit there full of potential. They may be my favourite book ever, or my least. I don’t know until I start, and that’s the most wonderfully Schrodinger-ish situation I can imagine.
Oh, see these? I read them, ages ago, then gave them away because of all the moving, and I regret it. I’ve bought them again, not because I want to reread them right now, but because I missed them. I needed them to remind me of the worlds I found between the pages. I still miss the originals.
And this book, here, that’s lost five pages out of the middle? That’s because when I was a kid my cousin and I owned the whole collection of Moomintroll books between us, and sometimes swapped them back and forth, and no one knows where those pages went, but we still read them. And that one, with the tattered dust jacket? I was given it when I was eight by a man who sailed out of the harbour a week later and never made it to his next port. He gave away a lot of things before he left. These are books I only have now because my dad kept these, my mum this. If they’d tidied up with too much conviction, the books would be gone, and the memories with them.
Books are magic. They spark more than joy. Read them, collect them, admire them, pass them on, but never feel feel guilty for owning books you haven’t read, or may not read again. Never feel bad for putting them down or not letting them go. Books, like cats, operate by their own laws. And they are so much more than printed paper.
So tell me, lovely people – do you hoard books? What books will you never give up? Are there any books you gave up at one stage that you wish you still had? Let me know below!
books, bookworm, life, memories, reading, self care
This is the very best blog anyone has written in the history of blogs. To tell someone who loves books and reading that they should give their books away is to suggest that you might want to cut off an arm because it is taking up space on your body. When I did my college interview for the college I went to, the interviewer asked me, “What kinds of book do you read?” I didn’t know how to answer that question because it was as if though she asked, “What kind of air do you breathe?”. In the pause where I stopped, dumbfounded, and tried to put together an answer other than, “Everything”, she saw my face and interpreted my blank pause correctly and knew that I would do well at this college. She was right. It was a perfect match.
I didn’t have much money to buy books of my own, and I always bought them used as paperbacks. I knew there were people who bought new hardcover books, but I didn’t really have that kind of money. Those were rich people. A class that I aspired to, but not that much since used paperbacks are really as good as new hardcovers.
I moved those books with me almost everywhere. I lost friends after moves. I had to hire profressional movers. I accepted that I would always have a box of to read books. But you’re right about the timing of a book. This year or next year may be the wrong time to read a book. But three years from now, you’ll pick up that book and it will be the exact right book at the exact right time.
Thank you for this blog. I think Marie Kando is a gentle soul who really means well.
But you just don’t mess with bookpeople. We can build forts out of our hoarded books.
I’m so glad you enjoyed the blog! And I love that your college interviewer recognised your passion. Books are just so much more than things. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with clearing out and cutting down on stuff, and I imagine Marie Kondo to be terribly helpful for finally stepping away from all the excess things one accumulates as we move through life.
But this does not include books.
I miss some of those lost books terribly, and they were always tatty old secondhand copies. Like you, there was never money for shiny new one. And I still love treasure hunting in secondhand shops and charity shops – you never know what you might find!
I really struggle with getting rid of books as a general rule. Now that our kids are grown and we’re finished homeschooling, I have given away a lot of books to people I knew would enjoy them next, and have really trimmed down the number of books we have, based on whether I would ever get around to rereading them or whether the kids wanted me to save them. It was tough, but I’m content with the books we still have. I don’t think I could just declutter them if I didn’t have a purpose for it, or people to give them to. That would be very difficult. Our house is filled with what most people would consider too many books and too many musical instruments, but when I look at our 30+ guitars, numerous amps, violins, mandolins, dulcimers, flutes, and even a handful of ukuleles, I can’t imagine life without them. Plus, I just don’t trust people who think books are optional.
I have just found this comment a year later, and now feel like we’re conducting some sort of time-travelling conversation. And I agree so much that books are not optional! What do you do without books? How is a house even a house without them? It would just be … weird.
And I love the image of all your musical instruments and books fighting for space. It sounds full of both memories and the potential for new ones.