By Claire Booth
Let me confess this right upfront. I own a lot of books. I am actively looking for another bookcase. I dream that one day I will live somewhere with ceilings tall enough to necessitate one of those rolling ladders to get to the top shelves.
|Someday . . . Photo credit:Stairwayshop.com|
So I had definite opinions when I heard about Marie Kondo’s stance on books. The author of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up maintains that if an item doesn’t "spark joy," you should get rid of it. The book was very successful on its own, but since her Netflix show started streaming at the beginning of this month, she’s become a cultural juggernaut.
I didn’t take much notice of this until her stance on books hit my social media feeds. Kondo advocates keeping only those books that spark joy or will be beneficial to your life going forward; otherwise, get rid of them.
And boy, were people pissed off. Granted, many of those I know are writers and passionately in love with books, so their response wasn’t surprising. But the outrage extended even further. People of all sorts were highly offended at the thought of someone telling them they should keep only a chosen few volumes.
In fairness, Kondo isn’t quite as draconian as that. She didn’t make the guy in Episode 5 get rid of his copy of To Kill a Mockingbird, even though he’d read it countless times. She encouraged the keeping of anything that provoked that kind of special "joy."
But then she said something that I’ve been mulling over ever since.
"Books are the reflection of our thoughts and values."
This statement can be seen in two different ways. The first, and the way I think she meant it, is that what’s on your bookshelves should reflect you. It should match who you are as a person.
"So by tidying books, it will show you what kind of information is important to you at this moment," Kondo says to the couple she’s helping in Episode 5.
So in essence, someone looking at your bookshelves should be able to tell that right now you’re an Atkins-dieting, sci-fi-reading father of a toddler? Or a Sudoku-solving reader of Regency romances who’s taking an accounting class?
That might be completely accurate, but good grief, how completely limiting. Shouldn’t your books be more than who you are?
I think the best book collections are the opposite of a reflection; they contain ideas that don't just echo our own opinions or knowledge, but rather push us outside our comfort zones—whether in the setting, the genre, the subject matter, the author’s cultural or ethnic background, the political viewpoint, or countless other aspects. The thing I hope people can tell about me if they look at my bookshelves is that I’m curious about the world.
The second way Kondo’s reflection statement can be interpreted has a broader and deeper meaning. I don’t think this interpretation is what she meant, and I think it’s where she misses the mark.
Books are a reflection of the value placed on reading.
Books, of any kind, show that value is placed in the written word and the knowledge that imparts.
Having books in a home—enough books where they are a presence, not an afterthought—means that everyone who lives in that home is exposed to that value. Every time they walk by that bookshelf.
This is particularly true with children. Rigorous studies have shown repeatedly that kids who live in homes with books, and who are read to consistently, do better in school and enjoy learning more. That doesn’t mean you need the dream library with the ladder. If you only have the room or the budget for a rotating stack of ten from the library, that’s great. It’s still showing that the value of books is both individual and aggregate. And that both are precious.