I can’t imagine anything less likely than me sitting down to watch a TV show about tidying up your house, but apparently some furor has been raised lately among those who enjoy such things. Everyone was loving tidy-up expert Marie Kondo, right up until she started telling people to get rid of her books. I think she’s the one who wants you to pick up your possessions and ask yourself if they “spark joy” before deciding whether to toss them or not. I don’t know how anybody has a blender or a toaster left after applying that method, but I can see the problem when it comes to book-lovers and book-hoarders. For us, it’s not just that an individual book sparks joy. Joy is sparked by the mere fact of living in a house that has a lot of well-stocked bookshelves in it. It’s about quality, but it’s also about quantity.
However, I have been, for the last two years, applying a kind of organizational mentality to my book collection. It’s a work in progress, and I’m not there yet, but the contents of my many, many bookshelves are going through some re-evaluation and in many cases replacement.
First, for context, here’s a video I made three years ago when it was briefly trendy for BookTubers to make video tours of their bookshelves. I share this (feel free to zip through it on fast-forward) to give you an idea of just how messy, random and oddly-stocked my shelves are).
Some of my bookshelves are still as messy and random as they were in that video, but others, particularly the highly visible ones in my living room have, as you can see in the picture at the top of this blog, undergone a change. I haven’t been following the Marie Kondo method; I’ve been following the Gloria Pritchett method, as inspired by Sophia Vergara’s character in Modern Family and explained in this blog post I wrote a year and a half ago. “Why isn’t all your underwear good?” is my guiding principle now for a lot of things besides underwear, and I someday hope to get to the point where all my books are “good” — that is, I’m only giving shelf space to books I actually want to have in the house.
One of the ongoing issues with my bookshelves is that book series, or just sets of individual books by an author I loved, came into my house in haphazard ways. Take, for example, one of the greatest series of all time: Dorothy Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries, some of my favourite books ever. I had the well-worn mass-market paperback of Gaudy Night I mentioned in the video above, that I had probably owned for 25 years and read nearly 25 times. I had copies of three or four other books of hers, all different editions, mostly mass-market paperbacks. Then a bunch of books from the series were missing because I’d original read them as library books and reread them as e-books, so I owned no copies at all.
It was the discovery of a new release of attractive trade-paperback editions of these books (trade paperback being my favourite format for books: mass-market paperbacks feel cheap and flimsy in my hands and hardcovers too heavy and clunky) that sparked a little joy in me and made me think: why don’t I finally get a complete, matching set of all these books? And behold, over the process of a year or so, acquiring them as they came out and as I could afford them, I have them.
Not all of the books in my new collections were new or expensive: I’ve bought the Dorothy Dunnett Lymond & Niccolo books in well-cared for secondhand copies, but again, I’ve made sure they’re all the same edition and match well together, so they’re a pleasure to look at on the shelf as well as reread. Although I still do most of my new reading on the e-reader, my goal is eventually to own a houseful of books that I have loved and chosen, not just a houseful of books that randomly wandered in here for some reason and are taking up space whether I’ve read and loved them or not.
So that’s my little bit of life-changing magic. What do you think about owning, buying, and organizing books? Have you made a conscious attempt to curate your collection? I’d really love to know what other book-lovers think about this.