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.

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