I’m jumping on the bandwagon of shade. I am piling on the hate. I am a little chagrined to be joining such a chorus since, generally speaking, I try to avoid the herd mentality, but when it comes to dissing books, I can’t help it.
There’s a conversation going around about self-proclaimed expert tidier Marie Kondo and her aversion to anyone owning more than 30 books. Specifically….
She recommends keeping no more than 30 books in your collection, to be exact….”The idea is that if it sparks joy for you, you must keep it even if I go over to your home and I say, ‘Do you really want to keep this book?’ If you feel that it sparks joy for you, keep it with confidence.”–from “Marie Kondo Approved Ways to Get Rid of Your Books”
But this is impossible. That would be an onerous burden for anyone, surely! Did she really say that? Could that be a distortion, a misquote? Suddenly, we have Netflix watchers up in arms, and a whole backlash movement, followed by protests that isn’t what she meant and don’t throw out your books!
The Tidying Expert
Marie Kondo, like Gordon Ramsay and the Supernanny before her, is one of those newly fashionable experts who tells people what to do, and people love it. (In the interests of full-disclosure, I have only watched 4:07 of Kondo’s advice, just now on Youtube because I felt obligated to watch something if I was going to write an entire blog about her.)
Watching her fold laundry made me think, well, yes, that’s how you fold laundry. Except that pants won’t stand up that way unless you are a size 2. Yes, of course, you shouldn’t carry around things in a purse that you aren’t using. Clean things out. Probably at least weekly. Put things in other things, preferably clear containers so you can see them. Put things away. Have a very small space that doesn’t allow you to acquire things, like a Japanese apartment. Don’t acquire things. Be tiny. That’s Marie Kondo advice, in a nutshell. You’re welcome.
In 1917, Elisabeth Morris wrote about “The Tyranny of Things,” and she was right. We live in an age where we are compelled to acquire, and manufactured things have become inexpensive, so we do drown in them sometimes. But, ah books! To readers, to book lovers, books are not things like T-shirts or Happy Meal toys or jars.
House as Library
How would you tidy up a library? Your books should be organized carefully, like a folded pair of pants. Cookbooks next to the kitchen. How-to books on art next to the art supplies. Exercise books in the room with the exercise equipment. There’s nonfiction there, hardback fiction over here, sci-fi fantasy (the biggest collection) here, and the second group where I need entire shelves for just a couple of authors next to the comfy chair. Organize your bookshelves, folks!
Yes, those are puzzles stacked next to the art books, one of the two puzzle closets. My puzzles bring me joy, too.
Umberto Eco spoke proudly of owning over 40,000 books, many of which he admitted he had not read. That was part of the experience, as he explains:
But then the day eventually comes when, in order to learn something about a certain topic, you decide finally to open one of the many unread books, only to realize that you already know it. What has happened? There is the mystical-biological explanation, whereby with the passing of time, and by dint of moving books, dusting them, then putting them back, by contact with our fingertips the essence of the book has gradually penetrated our mind. There is also the casual but continual scanning explanation: as time goes by, and you take up and then reorder various volumes, it is not the case that the book has never been glanced at; even by merely moving it you glanced at a few pages, one today, another the next month, and so on until you end up by reading most of it, if not in the usual linear way.
But the true explanation is that between the moment when the book first came to us and the moment when we opened it, we have read other books in which there was something that was said by that first book, and so, at the end of this long intertextual journey, you realize that even that book you had not read was still part of your mental heritage and perhaps had influenced you profoundly.–Umberto Eco, On Literature
Yes, that’s an Oxford English Dictionary in my author wife’s office. I bought that in college when I didn’t have a car, picked it up at the post office seven blocks from my studio apartment, and then carried it all the way home, oof! Did you know (according to the OED) that a spoony or spooney is a simple, silly, or foolish person?
If you actually listen to the tidying expert, you’ll realize that she’s not against books in general; she’s against books that don’t continuously add value to your life. In fact, she takes care to recognize their importance: “Books are the reflection of our thoughts and values,” she says while helping two writers pare down their library.–from “Marie Kondo Approved Ways to Get Rid of Your Books”
30 Per Shelf? 30 Per Author?
I still believe this may be a misquote. One friend suggests she meant 30 per shelf. Another suggests she meant 30 per author. I don’t have 30 for any author, … hold on a minute. I have quite a few from Bernard Cornwell, Ray Bradbury, Virginia Woolf, Nabokov, Shakespeare, of course, (three “complete” sets), three Bibles, a lot of Ray Bradbury and Katherine Kurtz, 15 Dorothy Dunnets, and 22 C.J. Cherryh’s. Daughter Lee, whose online sobriquet is Vanyel, appears to have around 35 Mercedes Lackeys.
My parents had bookshelves everywhere in the house. I remember curling up in a chair on a snowy day and just randomly pulling them off the shelves, Dickens, Shakespeare, Henry Miller? uck! Faulkner, Thomas Mann (snore). When my parents divorced and created two separate houses, the books divided and multiplied, like chromosomes. One of the volume of Shakespeares was used by both parents and me for study because you can thumb through and see notes in all three handwriting.
Kondo says you should only keep books that “bring you joy.” What could be more joyful than that? My memory is imperfect, but I can pretty much remember for every single book when it was purchased, where, and why. And probably if I’ve read it and how many times.
Not Really Everywhere
There are no books in the garage.
There are no books sitting in the sauna, in the sheds, or near the hot tub. Or in the bathrooms actually, just bring whatever’s in your hand at the moment. No books on the stairs…oops, just a minute. OK, now there are no books on the stairs.
By the way, a really good book on decluttering was recommended by my travel friend Jerry, called The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning by Margareta Magnusson. That book is funny, practical, and very moving in its own way. I have it on the shelf, oh, right here, yup hardback nonfiction.
“In Japan … it’s a very moist climate so the books would be physically harmed by the dampness,” she explained.–from “Marie Kondo Approved Ways to Get Rid of Your Books”
A Very Moist Climate
So, because of the climate, the Japanese must not be readers of many books. Wouldn’t the same argument — that dampness argument — hold for the Irish… there goes Joyce and Shaw… everyone in the Southern U.S. — so much for Flannery O’ Connor and Faulkner — the Californians… no John Steinbeck, oh and forget anyone from London.
Actually, Kondo’s concern about the dampness may be the clue to our disconnect. She perceives the book as ornamentation, as a precious object to be protected, like a painting or a bottle of wine. Amazon pays by the word or page read, as if letters are just grains of rice in any order. Realtors like to stage houses with fake book fronts and “coffee table books” that no one reads. This is the modern view of book as mutable content. This is the point of view of book as Thing.
That is not what books are for. Books are perfectly readable when damaged. You can drop a book in the bathtub or hot tub and still be moved by its poetry or gripped by its plot twists. You can be in the middle of reading five at a time.
This is the problem. Marie Kondo must not be a reader. A reader would know that all books bring joy. Books are a reflection of our thoughts and values, and having only 30 of them also is a reflect of thoughts and values, too.
Oh Marie, you spooney, this is a houseful of readers.
P.S. There are, actually, six Sharon Kay Penmans that no longer bring us joy. If anyone would like them and will pay shipping, I will send them for free. Send me a comment.