Using the KonMari method of tidying up, with clothes out of the way, next up was books. The goal, again, was to liberate anything that no longer sparked joy, by sending it away from my home with gratitude for a job well done.
If Marie Kondo knew me personally, she might have changed the order of her method, and ranked books with sentimental items which are saved until the end of the tidying up process so you can build up your skill before tackling your hardest areas.
See, Matt and I are both book junkies. Whenever a subject interests us, we end up buying every well-reviewed book in that category. When we first started planning to move to some rural area, I bought at least five country skills books. Then when we decided to plant food forests instead of linear orchards, we bought twenty acclaimed books on Permaculture to gain an understanding of the techniques. Then we needed books on food preservation, structure building, livestock care, more details on special areas of growing like tree grafting, grain-growing, vineyard management, composting, etc.
To our credit, we read everything we buy on purpose. We also read most of the books we can’t seem to resist buying on sale or from used bookstores. (If you’ve ever been to Daedalus Books and Music, you know how easy it is to buy more great books than you strictly need). We generally put the content to use in our writings, our lives, or we share the information with people we believe can benefit. So, for us, books have real value and utility, and are not just shelf decor.
But beyond my love of reading books, every time I handle a book, I think about the author. I think about their time alone at the computer, plugging away at a dream that may never have found its way to publication, as so many don’t. I think of what an act of faith it is to sustain a work of that length and how dangerous it must feel to let your work out into the world. I think…what if this were my book? These thoughts are what lead to piles of books in the bathroom, the back of closets, and stacked up like little Leaning Towers of Pisa on already over-stuffed bookcases.
The thing that Marie Kondo’s method helped me see is that books, even hers, are best treated as “consumables”. They are more like food and fine beverages in their nature than furniture or shelf dressing.
And in truth, someday when I am ready to let my novels loose in the world, that is my hope, that they be consumed and made part of my readers. Not left untouched on a shelf to decay. Unlike bottle-aged fine wine, books do not necessarily improve with age. Though their content may stand the test of time, and in some cases become more relevant than at the time of writing (e.g. 1984), their actual pages become fragile, dusty, and sometimes stinky if neglected.
Some books are meant to be drunk like the extraordinary 1998 Berta Grappa Tre Soli Tre Nebbiolo Da Barolo that Matt bought for my birthday. Every special occasion, we opened the wooden case, uncorked the bottle, metered out thimble-sized doses, sipped, and savored. The bottle lasted three years and was thoroughly enjoyed at each sampling.
For me, The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje is a book to savor. It’s been on my shelf since 1996 when the movie made it popular. Sometimes I don’t even re-read the whole story, but just open to a random page and linger over a sentence or two. Today it is page 111.
Any room was full of such choreography. The rogue gaze could see the buried line under the surface, how a knot might weave when out of sight.
Or, M.F.K. Fisher’s collected works in The Art of Eating which includes some of the best, most human writing on the importance of food culture of all time. Each spring, I also crack the cover of Barbara Kingsolver’s, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle – A Year of Food Life, to remind me of the richness of food that awaits us with the first unfurling of our asparagus spears. Clearly these books still spark joy and must stay on my shelves.
But then there’s Jane Smiley’s A Thousand Acres which I held on to for years longer than necessary. As well-written and important as her book is, its contents are so disturbing that I will never need to peruse those pages again. Her story is emblazoned in memory. My sympathies are forever guaranteed to those who suffer the emotional damage of being physically betrayed by someone in a position of trust. They are also equally secured for those who, are most likely the victims of similar betrayals, become perpetrators of those, or otherwise destructive, acts.
Disturbing books, I realized, must be let go. Perhaps my copy will end up at a library book sale and in the hands of someone who, for whatever reason, needs that reading experience.
Self-help books are meant to be temporary. When I worked too much, in a profession that was wrong for me, I read a lot of self-help books. The likes of The Tao of Abundance, How to Think Like Leonard da Vinci, and Succulent Wild Woman all deserved space on my shelves then. They were sign posts, directing me towards a more suitable life. But they seem irrelevant now, perhaps because they served their purpose and I have arrived at a way of living that I can sustain and that sustains me. However, works like Voluntary Simplicity, by Duane Elgin or The Good Life Lab, by Windy Tremayne still have things to teach me. Perhaps one day I’ll be ready to let them go too. But not today.
Then there are the books meant to be enjoyed like bottles of cheap wine. You know… those titles picked up at an airport layover, recommended by a friend, or chosen by your book club. Page turners that once opened must be finished. Like cheap wine, they are exhilarating when enjoyed quickly, but if left to sit too long, they turn sour and you don’t remember why you read them in the first place. Read these and recycle!
Despite the difficulty, I did manage to remove about six linear feet of books from our shelves. This is actually a lot because back in October, I had already purged about two hundred books on my own, before I learned about KonMari method of tidying up.
Now, the photos shown above are “after” photos. I realize, based on the sheer quantity of what remains, it might not seem like I got Marie Kondo’s message. But before you judge me too harshly, keep in mind this represents a book collection for two people who each read several books a month and write daily. We also barely ever watch TV or movies. We also became homesteaders with no prior experience and much of what we have learned has come from, and continues to come from, books.
And finally, it does in fact spark immense joy in me to know that if I were somehow stranded at the reLuxe Ranch indefinitely (and not just snowbound as we are today), I would never lack for entertainment, inspiration, or the know-how to be self-sufficient with such wonderful works still lingering in our overstuffed shelves.