All My Books Bring Me Joy

Kajmeister books 1
Tip of the iceberg of kajmeister books. All photos today by kajmeister.

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”

Yet more books
Non-paperback fiction, aka what I read in college (mostly).

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!

more books
Jokes & puzzles, handy in the family room

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.

Other people's books
Some of my daughter’s books.

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.

Office books
Books in the other writer’s office, including the OED.

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!

Exercise books
Exercise books, behind the elliptical, of course.
Cookbooks, naturally in kitchen (just the left side)
Business books
Functional business-y books in the office.
Art books
Art books next to art supplies.

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”

SF fantasy books
Sci fi fantasy in the hallway

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.

Reading nook
SF/Fantasy Favorites in the bedroom reading nook

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.

Coffee table books
For thumbing through while we watch TV.

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.

Wardrobe of books.
Open a wardrobe and voila! Books. Perhaps the C.S. Lewis should be in there.

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.

Bedtime books
Four to choose from at bedtime. Don’t worry, I don’t use highlighter on the library books.

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.

Reading lamp
Read around a lamp if you must, but never stop reading. Photo @2004.



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.

Give Love and Attention, the Kids Will Be Fine

I’m fuming a little today over an article I read in the New York Times yesterday on “The Relentlessness of Modern Parenting.” The essay purports to explain how parenting has become increasingly difficult due to the increasing cost of child-raising and the demands on parents time, yet I couldn’t help feel throughout that the author kept undercutting her own argument. The graphs and underlying data didn’t necessarily make the points intended, the expert quotes didn’t arise out of the studies cited, and the underlying premise itself seemed misguided. In short, the argument was like a caricature of itself, and, like many articles that seem to sympathize with modern readers, did more to stoke the flames of anxiety than to soothe them.

Whose Kids Are We Talking About, Anyway?

The gist of the article by Claire Cain Miller can be summed up in the header quote:

Raising children has become significantly more time-consuming and expensive, amid a sense that opportunity has grown more elusive.
–“The Relentlessness of Modern Parenting,” NYT 12/25/2018

This is illustrated by a graph that shows annual spending on children childcare, education,&c). For those in the top income quintile, spending has almost doubled in the last 35 years. Obviously, spending on children has become prohibitively expensive–practically unaffordable–and the ROI for this top fifth of households is apparently insufficient. They’re spending so much more money and not having enough to show for it! Continue reading “Give Love and Attention, the Kids Will Be Fine”

Erratic Like a Fox

“Why did he do that?”

“How could she?”

“What was she thinking?”

Tsk, tsk.

We’re living in an age where we cheer the eccentric and boo the erratic, in equal measure. Same as it ever was.

I was prompted to write a post for today’s Word-of-the-day challenge about Erratic.  I immediately reflected on the past couple of weeks. Elon Musk and the joint. Serena pointing at the ref. Madonna, always controversial. What do they all have in common? Success, you motorscooters! Success, despite their seeming erratic behavior. Success which comes from their innovation, talent, and unpredictability.

Serena Williams serving
Serena beating the pants off her rival in the U.S. Open semifinal before losing in the finals, photo by Seth Wenig, AP.

The Erratic 85.49% Winner

Serena is the greatest tennis player in history. Winner of 23 Grand Slam titles, she now competes against teenage athletes who grew up idolizing her. About to turn 37 years old, with an infant at home, she blazed into the Wimbledon and U.S. Open finals. Although she lost both finals, her power and presence were remarkable given her recent circumstances. Continue reading “Erratic Like a Fox”

Balance Restored: Ruby Slippers Found

An estimated eight billion people have seen the 1939 Hollywood film version of The Wizard of Oz.  Millions have viewed a pair of the ruby slippers worn by Judy Garland in the film, on display at the Smithsonian. Hundreds more saw another pair on loan to the Judy Garland museum in Minnesota, until it was brazenly stolen by thieves unknown in 2005. Minnesota has been on watch ever since.

Recovered ruby slippers
Recovered ruby slippers via FBI + mysterious sequin, photo at

But intrepid G-men, those FBI who have been criticized so much lately, were on the case. They announced this week that the slippers have been found, and they are close to apprehending the miscreants. Callooh-Callay!

Before I pontificate further on a few engrossing details in the case, I will point out that as a child of the sixties, I viewed Oz a good dozen times in black and white before ever seeing it in color. My aunt also says that she was watching the movie with my aging, Alzheimer-stricken grandmother and that at the moment when Dorothy opens her sepia-toned tornado-struck house to the colorful world of Oz, my grandmother died. So there is some deep connection between my Minnesota genes and this movie. As with that scene, there is more to the case than meets the eye. Continue reading “Balance Restored: Ruby Slippers Found”

Last Night I Dreamed of Algebra and the Taliban

The subconsciousness is a strange device. It’s our human CPU, running subroutines in the background. When we shut down for the night, it keeps running, energetically trying to solve all the world’s problems.  How the universe was formed. Whether there is life on other planets. What x equals. Why cruelty exists.

American Conservatory Theater production
From SF American Conservatory Theater production of Khalid Hosseini’s book, photo from Playbook.

A Thousand Suns… Some Not So Splendid

Last Thursday, I sat mesmerized during San Francisco’s American Conservatory Theater production of A Thousand Splendid Suns. This play, based on the best-selling novel by Khalid Hosseini, is the story of women enduring the Afghanistan Civil Wars and the rise of the Taliban in the late 1990s. I choose the word enduring carefully because it is the core verb that women in the play use to express what must be done. Afghanistan under the severity of the Taliban interpretation of Sharia Law was as perilous a place for women as any; endure is what they must.

Learn this now and learn it well, my daughter: Like a compass needle that points north, a man’s accusing finger always finds a woman. Always. You remember that, Mariam….There is only one, only one skill a woman like you and me needs in life, and they don’t teach it in school . . . Only one skill. And it’s this: tahamul. Endure . . . It’s our lot in life, Mariam. Women like us. We endure. It’s all we have.
–Nana in A Thousand Splendid Suns

I don’t know if Hosseini read his Faulkner.

They endured.
–Last line of The Sound and the Fury

Continue reading “Last Night I Dreamed of Algebra and the Taliban”