I have an hour and a half left to endure in the Life Changing Magic of Tidying up. I am listening to it on audible, and I always leave it until I’ve listened to everything else I can possibly get my fingers on–every book, every podcast, every lecture. So you know it’s bad when I finally push play on it once more.
I had got through the spiritual, life giving properties of folding the sock, and through all the other clothes folding, and so it was finally time to turn to the question of books. Now, before I launch in, screaming in all directions, let me just acknowledge that lots of us have too much stuff, including too many books, else why would we even be listening to Kon Mari in the sanctuary of our headphones. We would be doing Other Things if we didn’t have a stuff problem. And because we live in a culture piled with stuff, almost no one escapes the problem of what to do with stuff. Even if you yourself are not out actively acquiring stuff, the stuff will come and find you. It will come in in the hands of your children, it will wander in in the mail, it will leap unobtrusively into your grocery cart as you are wandering distracted through the store. There is no way to entirely avoid the Problem of Stuff. Being human means using things, organizing the things, getting new things, getting rid of things. We have to clothe and feed ourselves. And get online. And figure out where to put the laminator. And wander around the house picking up empty cups and shoving them in the sink or dish washer. That’s what it means to be human.
So, I trust we are all on the same page. I am now willing to go a step farther and say that the stuff we all have does effect the hidden spiritual realm of the ego, the psyche, the emotions, the ability to cope. In this way, one might say that the stuff does have ‘energy.’ Not in a Buddhist, spiritual sense, but more in the malign Terry Pratchett, Discworld way, where you never know what’s alive and is waiting in a dark cupboard to overtake you. But if we want to get down to brass tacks, And We Do, let us be really clear about what kind of inanimate object might have ‘energy’ and what kind manifestly would not, And Why.
The sock might make you feel a certain way when you’re wearing it, and thereby either divulge or suck away your will to live, but it itself does not have a life force that can contribute to your own. Similarly, a book, of whatever kind, as it sits there on the shelf, cannot make you live longer by sitting there, unless maybe if you tear the pages out and eat them, but their nutritional value has to be dubious at best. The book can certainly, like the sock, make you want to rethink your own existence because when you are piled up with stuff around your ears, oh my word, how can you even cope? Get rid of some of them so that your psyche can breathe.
But the book is more valuable and more life giving than the sock, not because of its non existent energy life force, but because another person, who did have an energy life force, wrote it. The book is one person putting something of himself, even if it’s only numbers and diagrams, onto a page, and then you, a different person, reading or looking at the page and being affected, in however small a way, by that other person. Books join humanity together with itself, and sometimes make deep and terrible divisions, and inform, and bless, and lie, and make the time disappear in a dust heap because that’s what people do. The Book is not the same consideration as The Sock.Look, I think picking up each sock and asking yourself if it gives you joy and then, based on an impulse–seeing in the depths of your being–that it absolutely does not spark anything but revulsion, and so lighting the wretched thing on fire, is a fine thing to do, if you have time for it. But books…Books! Not all books are about you! Couldn’t there be some other calculation other than your subjective narcissistic feelings that could inform your decision to keep it or throw it away? Couldn’t you look at a book, hold it in your hands, and not Just inquire ‘does this spark joy’ but also ask, ‘would it be good for me to read this?’ ‘Do I want my child or any child to read this someday?’ ‘Does this book hold the key to some other person that I hope to unlock? Or Something.
Surely books are not just about the information that is inside them. Once you have partaken of the bits that suit you, then they, the books, posses no value any more and you can just discard them entirely? Many Many Many Books are Deeper and More Interesting Than That.
It’s like…it’s like…and you can see this when she gets to the question of paper and memorabilia…it’s like she has no sense of history at all. It’s like the only thing that matters are your feelings Right Now. Which is so…shortsighted. So narrow. So self centered.
How, in other words, can Mari Kondo speak so lovingly and emotionally about folding her socks, but then admit to the wide world that she herself tore out the bits of the books she felt were useful to her, shoving the pages she felt worthwhile into a soulless and beauty killing file folder, in order to discard the unneeded remains. The ‘energy’ is all in the wrong place. What are you doing to the soul of the book when you tear some of the pages out? I can hear a thousand wordless cries of authors down the centuries, reaching out their hands in agony. Maybe it’s just that I just read the Badass Librarians, and feel the heart wrenching pain of watching ancient and precious human striving go up in flames.
I know, I know, not all books are equal. Yes, that’s true. Some books should be consigned of the rubbish bin of history if not the literal one as well. Indeed, as I waded through my school room yesterday, shoveling out the garbage and the shattered dreams, I threw away three worthless children’s ‘books,’ so dumb I would have been embarrassed to unload them on another person.
But on the whole, even with books I think are a waste of my time, even if I do get rid of them, I can’t beat back the sense of respectful guilty awe that presents itself whenever I make any such calculation. Someone spent time making the thing–thinking up the words, whether glorious or vapid, writing them down, whether coherently, in a muddle, or with all the grace of a blind, deaf, armless, spatially challenged orangutan. Then it had to be assembled into a book, printed, which involved other people. Then someone had to pick it up and maybe even pay money for it.
So Many People, all who have life force and energy, giving freely of that precious commodity onto the pages of a book, which came from a living tree, which also had energy…Sorry. My pantheism is probably showing.
Look, if you’re dying because you can’t walk through your house because of all the books, I guess you should feel free to do whatever you’ve gotta do. On the whole I’m against guilt. But if you feel a deeper sense of emotion over your sock than over the pages of a book I probably do question your judgement. I might not do it to your face, but I will judge you secretly in my heart, and wonder what kind of person you are.