After reading The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, I got all inspired to try the “KonMari” method for streamlining my life and keeping only items that “spark joy.” Clothing was the first category, and that went well, so I was ready to move on to the next: books. And once again, I loved it! I loved going through and handling every one of my books, which are truly my most treasured possessions. I loved recalling the memories of when I had first read them, anticipating rereading some of them, and even saying goodbye to some that were no longer relevant to my life. I loved reorganizing my shelves to better reflect the contents of the books and show me where my interests truly lie. And I loved feeling the more concentrated energy of what survived the process.
Author Marie Kondo and I disagree about some things. She says “from personal experience” that unread books will never get read, that the moment to read a book is right when you get it. Well, I do think I’ve accumulated too many unread books, and I want to do something about that. But having a certain number of books that have not yet revealed their secrets, that are waiting patiently for that right moment to arrive, can also be a source of joy for a true reading fanatic, as opposed to a tidying fanatic. As in everything, it’s finding the right balance that’s the problem.
Then there’s the issue of keeping books that you’ve already read, which she finds unnecessary because once you’ve read them “the information is already inside you, even if you’ve forgotten it.” To me, reading is not merely a matter of accessing information. It’s a journey that changes throughout life, and through which both reader and book are transformed. I don’t reread any more as much as I used to, but I still do cherish those moments when I’m able to revisit a favorite book, or even one I didn’t like so much that now speaks to me in a different way.
I also ignored her advice to not open any of the books because it would “cloud my judgment.” I’m sure that’s true if you’re just trying to get rid of as many books as possible, but I chose not to rely on instinct. I gave some of the books a chance to remind me why I had them in the first place, and argue their case. Some of them stayed, and some of them went, and if that was a mistake, I’m willing to deal with the consequences.
Want to see my results? Of course you do! Here they are, in the order of the categories I chose to organize by:
I started with books on Waldorf education, anthroposophy, and spirituality. After spending 10 years as an editor for the Waldorf Early Childhood Association, I’ve accumulated a lot of proof copies, reference books, and so forth that I want to pass on now — two boxes full! I didn’t get rid of much else from this category, but I did separate out the unread books onto their own shelf (not shown) so that I will pay more attention to them. I also moved some books from other locations, like books on sacred art that wanted to be with their friends.
Then I went on to fairy tales, myth and folklore: collections of traditional stories, modern literary tales, and works of criticism. I decided to include novels based on myth and fairy tales, as well as some works on Jungian psychology and books about children’s literature in general. I was somewhat surprised to find that this is my largest category. I also didn’t discard many books here; they all feel like a part of me.
Then I moved on to “treasure books,” the books I’ve collected in fine editions because I love them so much. I did put aside some of these for selling or donating, because I realized I’d been attracted by a pretty exterior on a book I didn’t actually like, or had held onto a favorite title even though I didn’t like the format or illustrations. This is the kind of joyless possession I do think it’s important to get rid of.
I also treasure my almost-complete collection of Diana Wynne Jones books, along with Ursula K. LeGuin and some favorites from my childhood. I’ve passed on a lot to my son (another way I clean off my shelves, ha ha), but there are some “girl books” that I still feel like keeping for myself, like A Little Princess, I Capture the Castle, and A Ring of Endless Light. On the top shelf is my collection of Library of America subscriber editions, a new obsession (great for fitting a lot of books into a little space).
On the lower half of that bookshelf are Robertson Davies, poetry books, literary topics including dictionaries and word games, biographies and memoirs, and some random hardcovers I decided to hang on to for now.
Finally, I dealt with everything else: a mishmash of cookbooks, art, travel and craft books, paperback fiction, and other miscellany. Cleaning up here was most satisfying, resulting in the most discards, and left me with three empty shelves!
One of the most illuminating results of tidying was that I gathered up all my unread books and put them in one place. I’m storing them in my bedroom so I will see them every night and not forget about them, as I tend to do when they are scattered about. The handsome shelf above has some current reads, review copies I need to get to ASAP, a pile for the Around the World Project, and Folio Society/Heritage Press editions that I’ve collected but need to actually read (or reread, in some cases).
Here I put German-language books (ignoring KonMari’s advice to discard books from unmet learning goals), and the books on anthroposophy and spirituality that I removed from the other room.
And here is one more TBR shelf, with (left to right) nonfiction, fiction, and books I want to reread before probably passing them along.
That’s a lot of unread books! I’m giving myself three months to read exclusively from these shelves, and then I’ll decide whether some of them need to go, and look at how to face what’s left. But I definitely feel much better with them all out in the open and organized by category. At least I know what I’m dealing with now. (And if you’d like to help me knock at least one book off my TBR list, you can enter my fourth-blogiversary Make Me Read It giveaway.)
I hope you enjoyed this (somewhat blurry) tour of my shelves. I certainly enjoyed putting it together, and look forward to more tidying adventures.