As a co-owner of this little corner of the Internet, I feel obliged to weigh in on Marie Kondo’s comments that had book lovers twitchy and defensive. Kondo’s philosophy is about a “less is more” lifestyle and advises the book people to let go of titles that don’t spark joy. Many of Kondo’s critics took issue with her suggestions of downsizing a personal library. The rallying cry of “you can never have too many books” was heard across the Internet.
Content vs Physical Book
Before everyone gets their book jackets in a twist, it is time to let go of the idea that books by themselves are sacred. Is it the actual book or the contents within? A public library exists to help people navigate life by having access to the information they need to make decisions. Sometimes that information is digital, video, audio, or a plain old book. It also is anything from romance fiction to a detailed 1,000 page tome on the life cycle of a fruit fly.
A personal library is different. You get to be your only patron. My personal library is not that interesting. There is a pile of library weeds from a parenting collection that will probably be showing up on our site soon. I also have several reference books on WordPress, Joomla, Excel, an APA manual, and several genealogy references. They are utilitarian and I wouldn’t say they spark any particular joy. They are simply useful right now. When they aren’t useful, they will go into a donation or book sale.
There are a handful of items that I will probably keep forever. They are, in fact, outdated, in poor condition, and would not be appropriate in anyone’s library except mine. I keep them because they are a physical reminder of my own life and history. The content is almost secondary.
My Picks for Sparking Joy
- A Swedish Bible that belonged to my great-great, grandparents when they emigrated to Marquette, Michigan about 1880. My great-great grandmother passed away after giving birth to my great grandmother around 1876. It is fragile and is falling apart. (The picture is a portion of the page from that Bible.)
- Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. A cheap paperback edition from the late 1970s that was one of my favorites as a teen.
- A Child’s History of the World by V.M. Hillyer because my mother read that book from cover to cover to me and my sister when we were probably 6 or 7.
- Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides: I love this book and I wanted my son to read it. At 16, he was not interested, even though I knew he would like it. I bribed him with cash and he made a vague promise. Nearly 10 years later after a near bankruptcy, divorce, and some serious life problems, he actually read it and gave me a book report. Best of all, he understood why I liked it.
- Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman: I read this in one of the first women’s studies courses offered in the late 1970s early 1980s in college. It was a game changer and had me reading more and I ended up with a minor in women’s studies.
These books do spark joy because they bring me to a place in time where I was changing. They aren’t necessarily my favorite books. I have been a reader nearly my entire life. If I tried to keep every book I ever read, or even the ones I just liked, I would probably end up as a candidate for Hoarders.
For a personal library, you go right ahead and collect what you want. You have my permission to fill up your house with books if that is what you desire, even if you never read them. As a professional librarian, I would ask you why you have a particular title. Try and answer with something more than “it’s a good book.” Don’t crowd out your truly special items with stuff that is just okay.