Reader’s Corner: Getting Rid of Books


There’s an idea going around these days—well, for some time, really—that everybody needs to pare down their possessions. Nothing wrong with getting ready of excess clutter, of course. We could all stand to take an extra look around the ranch every couple of months and think, “Do I need that?” or “Will I ever use this?”

But many of us apply the brakes when the idea comes to getting rid of our books. Sure, there are some on the shelves that we’ve either read to pieces, read half of once, plan to but will likely never read, and so on. The pure pragmatist can take the (perfectly reasonable, mind you) Seinfeld approach:

What is this obsession people have with books? They put them in their houses – like they’re trophies. What do you need it for after you read it?

He’s not wrong. They are trophies, to an extent. Or maybe they’re talismans. But a true reader’s books are more than just objet. They don’t care if anybody else ever sees them. We want to see them and have them around. They remind us of all the worlds contained therein and the joys that we felt experiencing them. You may as well start tossing out all your old photos.

1209_kondo-bookCover-209x300Then there’s the Marie Kondo approach. As popularized in her alarmingly popular books about minimalism, Kondo’s take on books is pure design minimalism wrapped in spirituality. You know the drill. And if not, Summer Brennan can break it down for you:

Like a lot of avid readers, I enjoyed Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up but bristled when it came to the section about books. The gist of her now-famous method is this: go through all your possessions by category, touch everything, keep only that which “sparks joy,” and watch as your world is transformed. It seems simple enough, but Kondo gives minimalism the hard sell when it comes to books, urging readers to ditch as many of them as they can. You may think that a book sparks joy, she argues, but you’re probably wrong and should get rid of it, especially if you haven’t read it yet…

Brennan’s right when she asks, “what kind of degenerate only wants to own 30 books (or fewer) at a time on purpose?” Is getting rid of everything not of immediate joy or purpose really meaningful? Does it do anything than present a more easily dusted shelf or more prettily Instagrammed wall?

Brennan again:

…the romance of minimalism relies on invisible abundance. The elegantly empty apartment speaks not to genteel poverty, but to the kind of hoarded wealth that makes anything and everything replaceable and available at the click of a mouse. Things and the freedom from things, and then things again if you desire. If you miss a book after getting rid of it, Kondo consoles, you can always buy it again. Dispose and replace, repeat and repeat. Ah, what fleeting luxury.

You heard it here: Keep your books if you want. Otherwise, the design fascists win.

Weekend Reading: May 27, 2016


Writer’s Desk: Freedom to Offend

It’s an intolerant world. All writers know this. There’s nary a one of us that hasn’t been on the receiving end of some kind of attack based on what we’ve written. The hate comes in all forms, from a simple “you idiot” screed to something more devious, hate-filled, and agenda-based.

That doesn’t mean that we censor ourselves.

It also doesn’t mean that we try and censor others.

When J.K. Rowling, who used to work for Amnesty International, spoke at the PEN America Literary Gala earlier this week, she talked about how “flattered” she had been to find her work so frequently banned and excoriated by religious zealots.

But she refused to countenance the repression of “alternative viewpoints,” even for the likes of somebody like Donald Trump. When an audience member clapped at her mention of an online petition to ban Trump from England, here is what Rowling said:

I find almost everything that Mr. Trump says objectionable. I consider him offensive and bigoted. But he has my full support to come to my country and be offensive and bigoted there. His freedom to speak protects my freedom to call him a bigot … If my offended feelings can justify a travel ban on Donald Trump, I have no moral ground on which to argue that those offended by feminism or the fight for transgender rights or universal suffrage should not oppress campaigners for those causes. If you seek the removal of freedoms from an opponent simply on them grounds that they have offended you eat, you have crossed the line to stand alongside tyrants who imprison, torture and kill on exactly the same justification…

To put it another, more bumper sticker-friendly way: Mean people suck, especially when they hate your writing. But the alternative is always worse.

Weekend Reading: May 20, 2016


Screening Room: ‘Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising’


People with lesser imaginations might have imagined that after the bong-huffing and keg-emptying rager that was Neighbors, there was nothing else to be done with the concept. But it appears that Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne are still irked to be living next door to a party house, only now it’s a rogue sorority instead of fraternity. Because: equality.

Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising opens this Friday everywhere. My review is at Film Journal International:

Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising starts with Kelly Radner (Rose Byrne), one-half of the film’s perpetually befuddled Gen-X couple, announcing her pregnancy to Mac (Seth Rogen) by spewing vomit on his face while they’re having sex. It ends in a curiously anti-climactic scene with the Radners enraptured in honeyed two-child McMansion bliss. In between those polar-opposite moments roils a helter-skelter of moments that read like something stitched together almost at random from the notebook leavings of Rogen and Evan Goldberg (just two of the five credited writers)…

Here’s the trailer:

Writer’s Desk: The Point of Fiction?

Defining the difference between fiction and nonfiction gets overly reductive fast. The former as entertainment and the latter as information.

Lee Child, author of the Jack Reacher series of novels about a former military policeman who wanders from town to town dispensing rough justice, breaks it down in terms of early human history:

Fiction evolved for a purpose. Warnings and cautionary tales could be sourced from the grim nonfiction world. A sabre-toothed tiger will kill you. O.K., got it. Fiction pushed the pendulum the other way. It inspired, and empowered, and emboldened. It said, No, actually, there was a guy, a friend of a friend, who came face to face with a sabre-toothed tiger, a huge one, and he turned and outran it, all the way back to the cave, safe as can be. So don’t panic. It doesn’t always turn out bad. Then, perhaps a hundred generations later, the story evolved, and the friend of the friend killed the tiger. The action hero was born. Strength and courage would save us. And it worked. Fiction in its various forms proved just as powerful to our survival as any other factor.

So remember that when you’re putting a final polish on your dyslexic detective novel or zombie romance trilogy, you’re not just helping people to kill time, you’re helping out the species.

Weekend Reading: March 13, 2016