Tuesday, January 15, 2019

ms kondo, in the library, with the lead piping

I caught an episode of Open Book on Radio 4 in the car the other day, featuring the lovely Mariella Frostrup and including (at about 7:40 in this link) an item about de-cluttering, and whether books could be considered "clutter" and whether you should therefore get rid of some of them. The catalyst for this was the apparently phenomenally successful show Tidying Up With Marie Kondo, wherein a tiny Japanese woman comes round to your house and tries to persuade you that it's probably not necessary to be hoarding four hundred Tesco carrier bags full of your own faeces. More controversially she has apparently made some pronouncements on the subject of books, which have predictably caused a variety of amusingly outraged reactions on the internet.

I do agree that there is some value in de-cluttering, and considering whether you really need all the gazillion items that are lying around your house, and if you come to the conclusion that your life would be enhanced beyond measure by getting rid of 90% of your books, then good luck to you, as long as you dispose of them in a responsible manner by taking them to a charity shop where they can be sold on (probably to me). Marie Kondo's mantra about only keeping things that "spark joy" is a bit teeth-grindingly cutesy but contains a grain of truth. If your things don't enhance your life in some way, consider having fewer things. My mother, just to provide a real-world example, is reasonably good about getting rid of books she doesn't want to keep, which suits me fine as I end up acquiring quite a few of them (my copy of Wolf Hall came to me via that route, for instance).

It just so happens that my entire book collection sparks great joy in me, and if anyone suggests getting rid of any of them they can fuck off. That said I did actually take half-a-dozen or so books to a charity shop the other day, but only because we were having a general tidy-up and they were books I had more than one copy of. They all count, though. There is a point where I am going to have to consider getting a bigger house, though, as you can see from the photo below.

Nonetheless it is worth considering why you keep books you have already read. Is it because you intend one day to re-read them? Well, perhaps; I used to be a fairly regular re-reader of books back when I was younger (and had fewer books), but not so much lately, partly because I now have a huge backlog of unread stuff to tackle (and blog about). Is it because you want to pass them on to your children? Yes, partly: Nia is a voracious consumer of books and I would certainly hope she'd want to dip into my bookshelves when she's a bit older. But mainly you just have to be honest and say: I'm highly unlikely to re-read most of them but just having them in the house brings me joy. And I'm sure Marie Kondo would be fine with that.

In fact the next Open Book item was a discussion about Franz Kafka, which provides a perfect example of what I'm talking about: I own one Kafka book, The Trial, which I bought and read when I was about eighteen, and have therefore been carrying from house to house for the last thirty years. Am I ever going to re-read it? Possible, but on balance unlikely. Will Nia want to read it one day? Possibly. Am I keeping it just to show off to visitors? I suppose it's possible, but I don't think so. For one thing the library is in the bedroom and we don't tend to usher guests in there unless we're having one of those parties.

Lastly, while this article provides a very even-handed view of the Kondo phenomenon, I must just take issue with a couple of sentences, responding to a claim that Kondo's methods amount to nothing more than "woo-woo nonsense":
Less “woo-woo nonsense” and more Japanese-style animism that comes out of the country’s indigenous Shinto beliefs. [...] In Japan, objects can have souls.
My responses to those two sentences are as follows:
  1. "indigenous Shinto beliefs" are “woo-woo nonsense”, just with a bit of cultural acceptability attached by virtue of age and its status as an "official" religion.
  2. No they can't.
I hope that clears up any confusion.

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