When you walk into my apartment, the first thing you see is the wall of floor-to-ceiling bookcases in my living room. There are two more bookcases in my kitchen, three in my hallway and another wall of bookcases in my bedroom.
Altogether, I have 20 bookcases in my apartment, and they are full to capacity.
Each is jam-packed with books, comics and geeky collectibles like R2-D2 pepper grinders, a Doctor Who Tardis pencil holder and a taxidermy mouse dressed as Harry Potter. Everything is color-coded to keep my brain from buzzing from too much visual stimulus.
Needless to say, if decluttering Jedi Master Marie Kondo walked into my apartment, she’d have a heart attack.
As host of the Netflix show Tidying Up With Marie Kondo (which launched Jan. 1), the friendly Japanese woman is famous for her huge smile and no-nonsense approach when it comes to paring down worldly possessions into a minimalist fantasy land.
Her mantra “Does this item spark joy?” has been muttered with both adoration and anger by anyone who’s also read her best-selling self-help book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying.
In it, and in her new Netflix show, she teaches the KonMari method of gathering belongings, one category at a time (like clothes, toys, electronics, etc.) and then keeping only those things that “spark joy” or give you a good feeling.
In the Netflix show, Kondo uses her signature organizing skills to help people who desperately need guidance. She teaches busy families how to keep the never-ending tide of kids’ toys at bay, their Christmas ornaments in boxes in the garage, and their underwear neatly folded and stored vertically inside dresser drawers.
I can say her method works wonders on old clothes, kitchen gear, electronics and paperwork.
I was horrified I had not one but three waffle makers in my home. After I sincerely thanked them for their service (as Kondo suggests you do with every item you own), I ended up giving the waffle makers to friends who would actually use them.
But once the show decided to focus on book collectors, I suddenly realized I couldn’t be a complete Kondo convert. I will never, ever willingly reduce my stacks of books and comics.
In Episode 5, called From Students to Improvements, Kondo tells a young couple: “Take every single book into your hands and see if it sparks joy for you.”
If you only own 25 books, that’s easy enough. But when you’re like me, surrounded by crammed wall-to-wall bookcases, that advice could mean spending years holding book after book and trying to sense the electricity of excitement in each one. I don’t think I’ll live that long.
In her book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, Kondo advises that you merely touch a book — not read it — to decide its fate. “Make sure you don’t start reading it,” she says. “Reading clouds your judgment.”
“Books are the reflection of your thoughts and values,” Kondo says on her show. “By tidying books, it will show you what kind of information is important to you at this moment.”
But that’s not what books are for. They aren’t there to quickly dole out the information you need right now, like Wikipedia does. Books exist to pique your curiosity, take you to imaginary worlds and let you step into the shoes of your heroes.
Books remind me the world is full of creativity, mystery and love. Books help me escape from the rigors of the real world. If I can’t afford to fly to Paris, I can at least read a book like Ernest Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast. If I get homesick for San Francisco, all I have to do is pick up my well-worn copy of Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin.
And if I want to know how to get away with murder, my hardcover editions by Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle and Patricia Highsmith are right at my fingertips. These books not only spark joy. They spark my imagination.
A vast book collection isn’t just about keeping the books you’ve read, but giving you an ample supply that’s available at any moment. With a personal library, unlike a public library, there’s no rush for you to finish the book to avoid late fees. You can write in the margins without horrifying a librarian. You can bring them into a bubble bath without fear of retribution.
Staring at a wall of books also motivates me to write more. Maybe my constant desire to see my name on the spine of a book is due to vanity, or perhaps I’m hoping to leave behind a lasting legacy as an author. But my book collection encourages me not to give up on my own career as a writer, even when I suffer from crippling Impostor Syndrome.
My books reflect who I am more than any dating profile or Twitter bio can. In addition to fiction, I collect books about art, history, politics, crafts, true crime, fashion, home decor, houseplants and magic. Pick a book from my shelves and I promise I’ll have a story to tell about my hunt for a first edition, an embarrassing author signing or a gift from a long-lost lover. Every book is special to me, whether I’ve already read it or not. Every book has its own built-in spark.
If you need any extra incentive to ignore Kondo’s advice about books, here’s what filmmaker John Waters once said: “Collect books, even if you don’t plan on reading them right away. Nothing is more important than an unread library.”
Now that’s what I call sparking joy.