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Konmari or tsundoku? The unbearable lightness of getting rid of books

Konmari or tsundoku? The unbearable lightness of getting rid of books
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In the fifth episode of Marie Kondo’s new reality Netflix show Tidying Up, the queen of clean assists two young writers, Matt and Frank, in decluttering their apartment. Matt reluctantly sorts through his clothes and learns how to fold a T-shirt using Kondo’s ceremonial KonMari Method. But Frank is visibly shaken when Kondo asks him to pare his book collection down to titles that “spark joy.”

Frank is not alone in questioning Kondo’s rule to let go of books the same way you would an old pair of socks or a dusty tchotchke. Award-winning Irish/Canadian author Anakana Schofield didn’t hold back her disdain when she tweeted: “Do NOT listen to Marie Kondo or Konmari in relation to books. Fill your apartment & world with them. I don’t give a shite if you throw out your knickers and Tupperware but the woman is very misguided about BOOKS. Every human needs a v extensive library not clean, boring shelves.”

These books with red stickers marked titles the Indian University of Pennsylvania library wanted to get rid of last January, 2018, in a bid to cull tens of thousands of volumes that had little or no readership.  (Michael Rubinkam / AP)

Schofield’s tweet went viral, triggering a deluge of passionate responses. Most applauded her stance, but there were some KonMari keeners who admonished Schofield — whose new novel, Bina, comes out this spring — for sucking the joy out of sparking joy. Schofield says she was “simply astonished” by the reaction. “I am surprised a tweet urging people not to think of books as the same as Tupperware or toilet brushes could ignite such division.”

Schofield does believe there are a few good reasons to cull your collection, such as “space issues, chronic insecure housing and ‘renovictions.’”

Books can also become expensive albatrosses during a move. When author Suzanne Alyssa Andrew (Circle of Stones) packed up her Toronto apartment for Vancouver in November, she purged about 40 per cent of her belongings to save costs.

“The toughest thing for me to tackle was my book collection because I’m sentimental, and my collection is part of my personal history and identity as a reader,” she says. Andrew got rid of about 100 books before calling in her good friend Cecilia Moorcroft, a “life and clutter coach,” who advised Andrew to pick each remaining book off the shelf, and consider them one by one.

“That was as effective as asking whether they sparked joy,” says Andrew. She gave the boot to outdated editions and damaged books. By following Moorcroft’s process, Andrew made a list of her 170 purged titles, many of which she donated to her local library’s fundraising sale. “I can look for better editions of any books I miss or wish to reread in the future, and can reminisce about the books I no longer have in my possession,” she says.

For those who work in publishing, controlling book counts is a Sisyphean task. Amanda Lewis, who is currently editorial director at Page Two publishing agency, has amassed plenty of books over her 11 years editing award-winning titles such as Sean Michaels’ novel Us Conductors and Naomi Klein’s climate-change manifesto, This Changes Everything. Lewis, who by nature is a collector, did a small purge over the holidays, mostly of cookbooks. “I had to let go of the idea that I would ever master sushi or Indian cooking, and accept that I usually look up recipes online or in the same trusted cookbook,” she says.

But Lewis doesn’t subscribe to KonMari’s minimalist ways. She prefers the Japanese term tsundoku, which translates roughly to “acquiring books and reading materials and letting them pile up for future reading.” In that spirit, she pulled together a shelf of books she’d like to read this year.

“Surrounding myself with books to be read feels more hopeful to me, as if I’m logging time. Besides, books don’t always ‘spark joy’ for me, and nor should they,” Lewis says. “They spark outrage, contentment, uneasiness, so I keep a variety of books in my home that inspire a range of emotional and intellectual responses.”

Author Jael Richardson (The Stone Thrower) estimates that her four office bookshelves are filled with about 300 books. In her role as executive director of Brampton’s Festival of Literary Diversity, she receives many more copies that she physically can’t hold on to. Richardson occasionally reorganizes her shelves, hiding books that are less relevant to her current interests or needs. She loves the feeling of getting rid of possessions, though struggles to let go of books that were given as gifts. When she can, she passes them on to friends or donates them to shelters.

“I love Kondo’s idea of keeping books that make me feel joy,” Richardson says. “Will there be books I want to keep that make me feel something other than joy? I feel like going to my office right now and touching every one.”
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