Doing the Impossible: Tidying Up My Books

Here’s a pretty picture of all the books I own.

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And here are all the books I owned as of last week:

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Remember how I talked about how we’re doing that whole KonMari thing? You can read about it here. Here’s the basic idea: you pick up every single thing in your home and see if it sparks joy. If not, then out it goes. A few weeks ago my husband and I tackled “clothes,” the first of the four categories of stuff to be pruned. Next on the list: books.

Oy.

I don’t own a lot of books. Really, I don’t. I own way more books than I do other things, but I would never consider the number to amount to “a lot”–probably one book bought for every 30-40 checked out from the library. (I have six books out from the library right now, five more that are available for pick-up–WHY DO I DO THIS TO MYSELF.)

So that makes getting rid of books that I actually own rillllllly painful. Still: Ryan and I are committed to this process. So a couple of weeks ago, we sat about the task of physically holding each book on our shelf(ves) to see if it sparked joy. But there’s a problem . . .

They ALL spark joy!

If I went to the trouble of buying it, then it sparks joy for me. I could have just checked it out from the library, after all, and grew my ever-expanding list of “books ready for pick-up.” And Marie Kondo says you’re supposed to just hold the book in your hand–NOT open it up and start reading. WHAAaaaaaa??? God put Adam and Eve in the garden and told them they could eat all the fruit they liked, but they had to avoid that one tree. We all know how that turned out. Let’s just say that with the “don’t actually open the book” directive, I am, alas, a daughter of Eve.

How on EARTH is anyone supposed to do choose what books to [gulp] give away? In the end, a lot of the keep/lose it decisions were made on the basis of the book’s cover. (SACRILEGE!) I swore I would never part with my high school copy of The Brothers Karamazov. But, it’s been a really long time since I read it and the cover was ratty; the “joy spark” was gone. Bye bye, Alyosha, Ivan, and Dmitry. If I really miss you, I’ll order a new copy from Barnes and Noble.

Yet covers aren’t everything. Case in point: two volumes from my literary/spiritual godmother, Annie Dillard.

Take the book on the right. The cover is cheesy, but give up Pilgrim at Tinker Creek? That’s like asking me to give up potatoes (read: NOT GONNA HAPPEN). And An American Childhood: well, I already have it, contained in between that watercolor mess of a cover on the right. So I don’t really NEED it. But–Pittsburgh! That’s Pittsburgh on the cover! I remember the first time I read An American Childhood, a library copy. It was a year before I moved to Pittsburgh, well before I knew that was something I would ever in my life do. I bought the book as a guide map to the city and traced Annie’s childhood wanderings throughout my neighborhood. Seeing the Cathedral of Learning on the cover, holding the weight of the book in my hand, gives me a very specific thrill and instantly transports me back to a certain time and place. August 2010, to be exact. The leaves had already started to turn. The air held the promise of fall. I sat on the back patio of our neighborhood coffee shop with sun on my face and thumbed through these pages, underlining streets I’d yet to wander.

 

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Give it away? Suuuuuuure. While I’m at it, I’ll just carve out a piece of my soul.

Writers should get double points for discarding their books. It’s like asking a carpenter to get rid of his hammers and nails. The books that I kept carry secrets to the trade that I can’t afford to forget. I couldn’t part with Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott–I refer to the sections on “Short Assignments” and “Sh*tty First Drafts” too frequently. Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge is a master class in how to make an unlikeable character lovable. Landline by Rainbow Rowell has just about the best dialogue I’ve ever read.

And then there are the books whose effect is less quantifiable. Dance of the Dissident Daughter is the book that went and made a feminist of me; Liz Gilbert’s Big Magic is the joyous kick in the pants that helps me reconnect with my creativity; The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron is the book that made me reconnect with my childhood dream of writing books. For a reader, books are never just books. They are places we’ve lived, stops along the map we’ve traveled in the process of becoming. Becoming better readers, better writers, better people. And for that, I want to scoop up all the books off my shelf, gather them into a big bear hug, and kiss their little spines.

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My booky-wooks. Bless your little hearts.

Are you a book hoarder lover? What’s that one book that you’d sooner chop off your pinky finger than get rid of?

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