Don’t Toss the Books!

kondo_booksUntil this week I had never heard of Marie Kondo. Apparently, though, she has written a bestselling book on tidying up your house and has a Netflix reality TV show where she goes around doing just that. She calls her method “Konmari” which is just the syllables of her first and last name flipped front to back. While it amazes me that someone can build an incredibly lucrative career around just telling people to throw stuff out, I came across this article in The Guardian that I wholeheartedly agree with.

Maybe, for certain kinds of items, throwing away anything that doesn’t “spark joy” can be a useful technique. But nobody in the world is ever going to get me to do that with my books. You should keep yours too.

The latest TV series by charming, tidy-up guru Marie Kondo has landed on Netflix and while we are all in love with the vibrant folk featured in her show, last week I accidentally entered the damning territory of disagreeing with Kondo’s philosophy – in a tweet that went viral. For while I’d heed Kondo’s “Konmari method” for habits such as folding T-shirts, she is woefully misguided when she says we should get rid of books that don’t give us “joy”.

Present tally among the 25,000-plus tweets replying to mine: 65% agree with me, 20% disagree, 3% think we are fighting over a football team and 5% insist Kondo’s position is way more nuanced than I give credit for. The rest insist I am a joyless frump. But be assured that this joyless frump will not be following Kondo’s advice, to essentially hold my books against my teats and left ventricle to see if they spark joy. If my own novels are anything to go by, I should be slightly concerned if the most recent, Martin John, sparked joy in anyone other than a convicted sex offender or a forensic psychiatrist.

In one video, Kondo helps a woman declutter her books by “waking them up”. Surely the way to wake up any book is to open it up and read it aloud, not tap it with fairy finger motions – but this is the woo-woo, nonsense territory we are in. Once the books are split into keep and get-gone piles, Marie and the woman thank the books for serving their purpose.

The metric of objects only “sparking joy” is deeply problematic when applied to books. The definition of joy (for the many people yelling at me on Twitter, who appear to have Konmari’d their dictionaries) is: “A feeling of great pleasure and happiness, a thing that causes joy, success or satisfaction.” This is a ludicrous suggestion for books. Literature does not exist only to provoke feelings of happiness or to placate us with its pleasure; art should also challenge and perturb us.

Also, what the Konmari folks don’t seem to understand at all is that an aggregate of books can spark joy. Ask any book collector. Put enough of them together and they sing to you – you know, metaphorically. Books are also ridiculously easy to store – they’re designed that way, after all. Standing in a library lined with full shelves is a beautiful, rewarding experience and I simply don’t get the mentality of anyone who says otherwise. The same room with all the shelves empty, or for that matter only thirty books, is just sad.

So here’s my method. I’ll call it “StenScott.” You can tidy up all you want, but keep the books. Or at least keep all of your up-to-date books on subjects that you are interested in and anything you think you might read for pleasure at some point in the future. Now I probably am not dishonest enough to turn those two sentences into a bestselling book that consists of repeating it over and over again using different words. And also, according to one study, something like 80% of adults don’t read for pleasure. If you’re in that group, go away. StenScott is not for you, which means my method has a much smaller audience than Kondo’s does.

I don’t necessarily keep every book I buy. I work in the computer industry, so I do get rid of books on, say, old versions of programming languages and the like. But I keep a lot – and none of the books in my library are by Marie Kondo.

UPDATE: Today there are a lot of folks on the Internet accusing everybody posting articles critical of Kondo of characterizing her as a fraud or a bad person or whatever. I just think she’s wrong about getting rid of books, and I also think that approaching books as individual objects glosses over their potential aggregate effects on your overall happiness. That doesn’t mean I think the rest of her methods are bad or pointless or anything, really. As I said above, tidy up as much as you want, but keep the books. That is all.

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