What Books Bring You Joy?

I’m sure by now you’ve all seen the social media flap over Marie Kondo (The Life Changing Magic of Tidying up) and her (much maligned) advice on decluttering books – including the outrage over her supposed instruction to ‘keep only the books that still spark joy’ (ideally less than thirty). The furor was such that I decided to watch the episode on her Netflix show  just to see what all the fuss was about (even though I was sure, no matter her advice, I wasn’t about to part with any of my book collection!)  While I, for one, would never presume to advise anyone on the art of tidying up (even though my husband was super excited by the prospect!), I think the debate over whether you should only keep books that still ‘spark joy’ is a wonderful one…because it reaffirms why so many of us love to live surrounded by our books.

Even though on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram there was a lot of anger and outrage, at the heart of Kondo’s advice there seemed to be some valuable observations about the joy books can continue to spark in people years after they were first read, the benefits of feeling connected to the books you own, as well as the practicalities that every book lover has to face (limited bookshelf space!!!).

I come from a line of book hoarders. Up until recently, almost every available shelf in my parents’ home contained piles of books until they realized the necessity of downsizing meant facing the dreaded task of sorting through their books. I felt their horror. After all, they had decades of book collecting behind them (including amassing a lovely antiquarian collection of English Civil War books which is hopefully going to a museum somewhere). My initial instinct was (of course!) to offer a home to any and all of their ‘orphaned’ books until my husband pointed out that we have no room for our own books let alone anyone else’s…which may be why the concept of books ‘sparking joy’ seems poignantly relevant to me now (not that I’m giving up any of my books yet!!).

In the infamous ‘book’ episode, Marie Kondo asks one of her clients to name the book he will ‘never let go?’ (his answer: To Kill a Mockingbird) and the starkness of this question made me think long and hard (I still have no answer – I have far more than just one book that I’ll ever let go!). Certain books, however, do stand out – like my Chalet School book collection that I obsessively collected into my early 20’s (these school stories were published sporadically and often very hard to find). Although I don’t re-read them anymore, I couldn’t bear to part with them – which must mean they continue to spark joy:)

I’m still resistant to the notion that I could ever declutter that many books (too many bring me joy) or select just ‘one’ to keep – but Kondo’s questions have made me think about why I keep the books I keep – after all, I don’t keep every book – I’ve donated many paperbacks, potboilers, gifts, and duds in the past. I am also an avid library goer (lest you think I’m a complete book materialist!) as well as an e-book buyer (clearly, far less bookshelf space is required for those:)).

According to Kondo, the books I keep on my shelf should (in theory) be those I’ve deliberately chosen as ones that continue to ‘spark joy’…but in practice, this is far more complicated. I keep books that have infuriated and challenged me, classics I was forced to read at school and never really enjoyed but (begrudgingly) learned from, reference books from my past careers (you know, just in case…), books that hold weird sentimental value I don’t quite understand, history books for periods I’ve not written about yet…and the list goes on (not to mention the vast TBR pile!). Sparking joy seems too simplistic a criteria when it comes breadth of emotions literature provides.

What about you TKZers? What do you think about Kondo’s decluttering advice when it comes to books? If she asked you, what is the book you’d never let go?


Letting Go of Books: Is it Even Possible?


Me, looking vaguely terrifying in front of our messy, three-deep bookshelves

I’ve been scarce around here lately, and I always regret that. Beginning last week I started the toughest edit of any novel (for me, at least): the read-aloud edit. It’s slow, slow, slow. But it’s the only way to catch errors that might not ever get caught. There’s something about hearing the words out loud that is completely unlike reading them silently. I always retain information better if I hear it, rather than just read it on the page. Reading my work aloud helps me take ownership of the work, and it’s almost like I’m reading it for the first time. Does that happen for anyone else?

A few months ago, I wrote about my affection for audiobooks. Lately I’ve found that I don’t want to be without one–ever. It might have a little something to do with the Apple AirPods I got for Christmas. (Which, in my middle aged way, I usually refer to as Ear Pods, because, really, that’s what they are, right?) They’re so handy, and stay charged forever, and only fall out of my ears if I fall asleep with them in. But I also have a bluetooth speaker I use in the house if I’m the only one home. My friend has one too and she told me hers is the Best Bluetooth Speaker Under 5000 in India, she loves using hers too. The little kid in me still feels very special when someone reads to me. It doesn’t matter if the person isn’t in the room, or if they did the actual reading a dozen years ago. So why shouldn’t I have someone reading to me all the time?

The book I started on my break this afternoon is Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude. I read it years ago and found it rather tough going, but I’m loving the audio. It’s made me laugh several times in just the first hour. I didn’t really seek out Marquez. I simply scrolled through the “What’s Available” category on Overdrive, and it jumped out at me.

What does this have to do with (physical) books? Sorry, you know how I tend to meander into my blog topic…

The book I finished this morning was a non-fiction book called Goodbye, Things: The New Japanese Minimalism, by Fumio Sasaki. If you read and liked Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, you’ll find Sasaski’s book a rather logical next step. That is, if you’re very curious about the causes and results of the pursuit of minimalism. And possibly desirous of living in a 300 square foot space with…one book. While I love trying new things, and Sasaki is very knowledgable and has some brilliant ideas about what to cull from your life and why, I draw a hard line at books.


Our house has deep and numerous bookshelves, and I’m feeling overwhelmed simply by the presence of so many books. Our main built-ins can handle three rows of books, back to front. Not all of them contain three rows of books. Only about two thirds, or 90 square feet of shelves have that many. (That’s nearly a third of the square footage of Sasaki’s entire home.) I can’t even get to the second two rows unless I try. Clearly, some books need to go.

How to choose? Marie Kondo’s method is to put ALL the books in the house into a pile and touch each one to see if it still sparks joy. If it sparks, you get to keep the book/object. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Well, maybe not so simple. Sasaki gives many cogent arguments for simply getting rid of things, few questions asked. His main argument is, “The things we say goodbye to are the things we’ll remember forever.” He takes many, many photographs of the objects he releases out into the world.

What about categories? A gloss of my categories: Read or unread, books by friends, reference books, books that formed me at various stages of my career. coffee table books, art books, DUMMIE’S GUIDE books. Books received as gifts. SO many textbooks and homeschooling novels/story collections. Books my kids loved. Books on faith. Beloved paperbacks. Books I’ve published. Books I started reading and never finished. Antique books that belonged to people who have been dead for decades. Craft books, arts and crafts books. Cookbooks. Music books. Single-author collections. FIRST EDITIONS. Just today, as I was linking to the Marie Kondo book, I found a copy of the first American edition for seven dollars. Seven dollars! That’s practically free. I have it on my Kindle, and I listened to it on Overdrive last week. But I don’t have a first American edition!

There are only about fifteen books that I read again and again. That’s not even a shelf and a half’s worth. What would I do with all that bookshelf space? Something has to go on those shelves besides sleeping cats.

Both Sasaki and Kando write about minimalism being life-changing. And Sasaki is persuasive. No one wants to die and leave piles and piles of things for relatives to dispose of. Uncluttered space makes for inspirational space. Creativity can flow through cleared rooms. I’m a believer.

Then again, books are comforting. Books are undemanding, and sit quietly waiting to be noticed. Writing books is my dream, and how can I abandon the dreams of so many other writers? I don’t want to hurt their feelings, even if they don’t know it.

I need some inspiration. To cull or not to cull? Shall I take pictures of their covers and get rid of the majority of the books?

How do you feel about your books? Is it hard to let go? What’s your secret?