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.

Homo Sapiens at the Monuments

I was inspired with today’s word “camera” to share mostly photos rather than words, although some explanation is required. You see, I have a penchant when we travel for capturing the interaction between humanity and monuments. What tends to catch my eye is potential humanity, in particular, which is to say children being children.

The earth is 4.5 billion years old, humans around 6 million years, and civilization about 6,000, so you might say the rocks have it all over us. As Virginia Woolf once said,

The very stone one kicks with one’s boot will outlast Shakespeare.
–To the Lighthouse

Yet while we stand around in reverence, snapping photos of the million-year-old natural rock bridge or a Michelangelo masterpiece, children do what they do, which is to say play games, be naughty, and generally act as if they own the place. Which they do, in the most essential way.  I first observed this at Arizona’s Canyon de Chelly back in 1993, where a late April water gully created a stream where a dozen Navajo children played. The sight of the massive rock edifice and 500-year-old abandoned Anasazi ruins carved out of the walls, set against the kids splashing water around and shrieking with laughter was both incongruous and perfectly natural. To me, it was like our genetic potential breathing.

Those are highfalutin’ ideas, but I frame them around this “photo essay” to help explain why these photos were taken in this way.

OK, it’s not Stonehenge, it’s Carhenge in Alliance, Nebraska. But wouldn’t be cool if you saw a toddler running through the sarsens erected by the ancient Celts?

Toddler at Carhenge, Nebraska. Photo by kajmeister.

Continue reading “Homo Sapiens at the Monuments”

Mare Nostrum III: The Northwest (Mediterranean) Coast

Barcelona sounds different. Venice was filled with the sound of water lapping against the docks. Rome was so much noise, scooters, cars, people talking, and radios playing. Spain’s pedigree is all street music. I haven’t heard so many violins, accordions, and guitars out on the sidewalk since a year ago, in Dublin.

Cruise ship on western Mediterranean.
Big ship, little ports in the western Mediterranean. (Celebrity Reflection photo by kajmeister.)

After a week plus in Italy, we are another week on a boat–a big boat–riding around the western Mediterranean. The coast is lined with cliffs near the water, so views are dramatic and establishments are swanky.

Giambologna's Mercury
Statue of Mercury by Giambologna, Bargello Museum, Florence. Photo by kajmeister.

Firenze (Florence): Home to the Medicis

After leaving Rome, our ship made one more stop in La Spezia, Italy. We took a tour inland, along to Arno, away from Pisa (no leaning towers today), into Medici territory. Like other parts of Italy, Florence is majestically old, resting on its Renaissance laurels, and deservedly so.

We didn’t have the time or the tickets to visit either the Uffizi Gallery, which boasts two million visitors a year to masterpieces like Botticelli’s Venus or the Accademia, to see Michelangelo’s David. We’ll just have to come back to Florence. We did manage a 45-minute run through a museum called the Bargello. Less crowded than its famous neighbors, this nice little sculpture museum still displayed a plethora of Donatellos, Michelangelos, and Giambolognas–like the famous Mercury above.

Duomo cathedral, Florence, Italy.
Duomo cathedral, Florence, Italy. Photo by kajmeister. Duomo cathedral, Florence, Italy. Photo by kajmeister.

Major Duomo

Another big attraction in Florence is the Cathedral, also called Il Duomo di Firenze, which has a Parthenon-like dome designed by Brunelleschi. This was the site in 1478 of an attempted murder of Lorenzo di Medici at Easter mass. Lorenzo the Magnificent was only wounded, although his brother Giulano was killed. Historians say the original hit men balked at conducting this business in the cathedral, so some wayward priests were hired instead. Afterwards, supporters of the Medici rivals ran into the streets, shouting “Pozzi” while others shouted “Palle,” referring to the balls on the Medici coat of arms. The Medicis hanged the archbishop; the pope responded by putting an interdict on the city and convincing King Ferrante of Naples to attack. Oh, those Guelphs (supporters of the pope) and Ghibellines (supporters of the Holy Roman Emperor)! Such merry bands of pranksters! Fun times!

Dante's tomb, Florence.
Dante’s tomb, Basilica of St. Francis, Florence, Italy. Photo by kajmeister.

I also spent a speedy ten minutes–Sofia, our Italian tour guide, was strict about Time Back to the Bus–running through the Basilica of Saint Francis. It was a short but fruitful time, as I snapped pictures of one famous name after another–Da Vinci, Enrico Fermi, Machiavelli, Marconi, Michelangelo, and Dante. I finished in 7.5 minutes, with 2.5 minutes left to get gelato.

Ciao, Italia! On to the French Riviera.

Villedefranche-sur-Mer and the Uphill Medieval Village of Eze

Our Cote d’Azur port was a small village near Nice. It reminded me of La Jolla, if you could visualize Nice as San Diego, much more crowded and “urban.” In Villedefranche, the coastal street was lined with shops and cafes with umbrellas, one of which suddenly flew off in the beach wind, leaving an elderly French waiter to start waving, “Atencion! Atencion!” as it bounded gaily into the surprised cafe au lait-sippers across the street.

Cactus garden in Eze, France.
Cactus garden in the Uphill medieval village of Eze, France. Photo by kajmeister.

Our tour was to the Uphill Medieval Village of Eze–that’s what the brochure called it. I don’t know if that was just pointing out that, being on a cliff, the access to the village would require an uphill trek, or if the Ezeians themselves liked to refer to their village that way. Since the neighboring town is called Villedefranche-sur-la-mer, perhaps the locals in the tiny village felt the name Eze was too short.

Rose petals at the Fragonard perfume factory, Eze, France. Photo by kajmeister.

Fragonard Petals Petals

There was also a tour of the Fragonard Perfume Factory, a bit unexpected as it was not listed in the itinerary, but machines are always interesting to me. Sylvie, the French tour guide, was a little unclear about directions and process anyway. She sort of waved in the air at things as we went by in lieu of stopping to provide pertinent details. “And zees is the shopping… and zees is the gardens…”

Clearly the French are obsessed with smell. It takes three tons of rose petals to distill a liter of oil. Perfume workers study for years to memorize the 200 difference scents. This culture also enjoys sniffing wine and eating eye-watering cheeses. Truthfully, half of the perfumes we sampled were surprisingly pleasant, and I would consider wearing them if that’s how I wanted to spend my money or my time. But it seemed odd to have fragrances for women, men, and children. American culture is criticized for things like producing “food” such as fried Twinkies, but I would say a culture where the children are encouraged to wear perfume is also weird. My recommendation would be daily bathing.

Sea view at Villedefranche-sur-mer, France.
Villedefranche-sur-mer, La Cote d’Azur, France. Photo by kajmeister.

After the day in France–vive la France!–we pushed on 300 miles west to the core destinations of the sailing trip: the seaports of Eastern Spain. After landing in Barcelona, we started on a tour up another mountain, to the monastery at Montserrat.

Montserrat–La Moreneta

Montserrat is the site of a Benedictine monastery, built in the 11th century, and still in use today. Many of the buildings have been rebuilt since then, particularly after Napoleon destroyed most of it. This recently rebuilt is a Spanish theme.

The monastery and cathedral is considered a place for pilgrimage for devoted Catholics to visit La Moreneta, the black Madonna, in the abbey of Santa Maria. Black Madonnas exist in many places–another was on a church in Barcelona’s Goth Quarter. Our guide pointed out several features of the mother and child relating to pre-Christian (i.e. pagan) symbolism, from the dark skin of mother and child to the fruit held by the baby, signifing fertility.

Near Montserrat monastery.
View from Montserrat monastery near Barcelona, Spain. Photo by kajmeister.

We had lunch with 200 other passengers at the monastery, where there was an unfortunate incident for the soft-spoken Parisian women at our table. After expressly clarifying her serious egg allergy (the Epipen kind, not the hipster-American “I swoon thinking of toxins” kind), they served her alternate entrée with a huge hard-boiled egg on it. It was fish—what kind of recipe for fish calls for a hard-boiled egg as a crowning garnish? I apologize, people with food allergies, on behalf of all careless cooks. (Her “special dessert” was a plate holding two unpeeled apples–with the stickers still on!)

I suspect the views from Montserrat are quite spectacular on a sunny day. For us, it was hazy and overcast. The sun did come out as we drove down the hill, into Barcelona, and into the music.

Let the songs begin/Dejalo nacer
Let the music play, Ah
Make the voices sing/Nace un gran amor
Start the celebration/Ven a mi
And cry/Grita
Come alive/Vive
And shake the foundations from the skies
Shaking all our lives
Barcelona, by Freddie Mercury with Montserrat Caballe

Cathedrals, Lamps, Mannequins, and Whistles

As we got off the bus in the Gothic quarter, a 4-piece band set up to start the crowd swaying to a samba beat. Next to the cathedral, a lone Spanish guitarist was Ottmar Liebert-ing away. A violinist on a walking path alternated a tango with Bach and then Yellow Submarine. After the muted greens and oranges in Venice and the faded stone and grays of Rome, Barcelona was colors, art deco design, giant Picasso drawings on building sides, and a mix of architecture and art. Riotous and fun!

Even the cathedral built to look Gothic was completed only in the 19th century–neo-Gothic. Gaudi apartments stand between contemporary flats or belle epoque styled buildings. Balconies are varied and plentiful. Street lamps and light posts seem individually carved and many bear the names of groups which sponsor them.

Barcelona Cathedral.
Barcelona cathedral. Photo by kajmeister.

Our tour of the Gothic quarter started in Placa de Jaume, where the government palace faces city hall. The two administrative buildings both displayed yellow ribbons in support of those arrested as political protesters during recent Catalan independence demonstrations. Catalan flags were also hanging from balconies– one across from city hall held a mannequin in Catalan colors which would show up in tour photos of the bell tower.

Barcelona, Catalan protests balconies.
View from Placa de Saunt Jame, Barcelona, Spain displaying yellow for Catalan independence. Photo by kajmeister.

Bridges span buildings from centuries ago time when the bishop wanted free access to the mayor. A few Roman ruins are preserved underneath taverns. Tapas restaurants are everpresent, from haute cuisine pricing down to that of a chain restaurant. But even the Brie & vegetables and Braised Meatballs tapas we had in a local franchise (based on the plastic menus) tasted mighty good, especially for five euros.

At noon, as we consulted the map once more, bicycles started flying through the narrow streets, with riders tweeting ear-piercing whistles. They started circling through the Saunt James, whistling and shouting. It reminded me of the San Francisco Critical Mass bicycle protests until a *bang* made us jump; they were setting off firecrackers in protests. We beat an extremely hasty retreat into a nearby museum, which luckily was all about Antonin Gaudi.

ETA for the Holy Family (La Sagrada Familia) is 2026

Gaudi’s ideas are so modern, post-modern, and post-post-modern, that it’s hard to realize he did most of his work now nearly a century ago. Like Frank Lloyd Wright, Gaudi’s architecture style leaned on blending buildings with the environment and representing the modern with clean lines and curves rather than angles and blank blocks. But his visions were often grander.

La Sagrada Familia, his masterwork, was hardly begun before he passed away, but he planned for future generations to finish it. A museum exhibit pointed out that Gaudi’s curves and arches were novel engineering, but his technical approach included hanging weights from the ceiling. This allowed him to adjust angles to account for gravity properly and to analyze load-bearing for his unique designs.

Gaude Museum, Barcelona, Spain.
Detail from Gaudi Museum, Barcelona, Spain. Photo by kajmeister.

Gaudi was a devout Catholic and watched the Barcelona cathedral work as a young man. He wanted to pay homage to the gothic style, including stained glass windows and carvings, but in his own way. For example, he put the smallest glass windows near where the sun was strongest, growing other windows in size as the light dimmed, so that each glass would be similar in brightness. His designs were bright and colorful but modern in nature, such as the view for one of the “rose windows” below.

Gaudi Stained glass window example.
Stained glass window detail in La Sagrada Familia, Barcelona, Spain. Photo by kajmeister.

Several guides sighed when asked when the construction would be completed and said that work still continued, decades after Gaudi himself died. But, said Pilar, our Gothic Quarter guide, the last time she asked, they gave her an estimated completion date for the very first time: 2026.

Such timing may frustrate 21st century humans accustomed to instant gratification. Yet St. Peter’s took over a century, Salisbury perhaps 300 years. One of my favorite places in the world, the carving of Crazy Horse in South Dakota, started nearly a century ago by one guy hauling a drill up the mountain. It will likely take another hundred years to realize the horse and rider in full. There is enough of La Sagrada already to enjoy, and the prospect of completion within our lifetime seems worth waiting for.

La Sagrada Familia front, Barcelona, Spain.
La Sagrada Familia, under construction until ???? 2026? Photo by kajmeister.

I’ll just have to come back to Barcelona, after 2026.

The Land of Rock and Cactus, Part I: Looking Up

Sunset at Canyon de Chelly, Chinle, Arizona

“Where are you going THIS time?”

My friend was kidding, but we are traveling again for the fifth time this year, and it’s not getting old.  THIS time, we’re traveling into the land of enchantment, the land of mesas and long horizons, the land with dirt that coats your shoes and pant legs and gets into your pores. This is the land of rock and cactus, a land of exceptional beauty, the jewel of America, the Southwest.

Bombing down I5 through the Central Valley, we were happy to turn east through Bakersfield instead of  crawling through El Lay Basin for five hours. In Palm Springs, we stopped at a small but delightful botanical garden called Moorten’s which boasts the World’s Largest Cactarium. The yucca and ocotillo sprawled with joy across hand-lettered signs. The greenhouse was full of rare variations: cactus with hair six inches long and soft to the touch, cactus that grew downward from a hanging pot, and even cactus that stretched like a pile of snakes along the ground — “Grows Horizontally.”

In Redlands, a small college town on the east side of San Bernardino, the “fast food” joint called Red Panka, begs to be franchised.  The theme was Peruvian food and my quinoa shrimp saltado salad was virtuous and delicious; the fried plantains for dessert topped it off beautifully. I jotted a note to my Post-Traveling Self: Convince someone to open a Red Panka shop in Castro Valley! Continue reading “The Land of Rock and Cactus, Part I: Looking Up”

First Car

Chip in for gas, friends!
My car goes where I aim it.
Just us. No parents.
–First car haiku

Our 21-year old has just purchased his First Car.  I thought it would happen sooner, but then I’m the one that always said you don’t need a car until you graduate from college. And, truthfully, he’s not been keen on driving since he got his First Ticket blowing a stop sign in front of a patrol car one foggy evening after a late shift at his First Job at McDonald’s (the last day before returning to school).  It made him skittish; it made him hitch rides with us and his friends as often as he could. But heading into graduate school in Southern California, the reality of needs set in. He had to get his own car.

In America, the first car is a rite of passage, though it wasn’t always so. A hundred years ago, cars had just been invented. My grandparents didn’t own cars until well into their thirties; my grandmothers didn’t technically own the cars at all. My parents didn’t have a car until they were in Europe when they were working overseas after college. My brother and I didn’t have one until we were out of college as well. Continue reading “First Car”