If you follow a lot of people who watch a lot of Netflix, then you’ve probably spent a lot of 2019 so far watching them argue about books. Specifically, about Tidying Up with Marie Kondo‘s approach to books.
“Keep your tidy, spark-joy hands off my book piles, Marie Kondo,” gasped The Washington Post. “Marie Kondo, back off! Why this book hoarder refuses to tidy up,” declared Cnet. On Twitter, some bibliophiles expressed shock and horror, while others reacted to that shock and horror with snark and bemusement.
Kondo’s method for books is exactly the same as her method for pretty much anything else you might find in a home, like clothing, sporting goods, or kitchen gadgets. Yet it’s only the books that have provoked this level of disgust, and that’s because a lot of people have no chill when it comes to what other people might be doing with their books.
Though this particular Kon-troversy is new, it’s really just the latest in a long series of book-related outrages over the years.
Last year’s was the collective hand-wringing over backwards bookshelves. Before that was the outrage over books getting cut up for crafts. There’s been huffing over shelves curated by color and selfies over piles of open books, and disagreements over whether a large stack of unread books is cause for pride or shame.
What all of these scandalous actions have in common is that they don’t actually affect anyone at all but the person making them. Instagram influencers aren’t sneaking into your home to rearrange your shelves, and Kondo isn’t signing legislation to outlaw large book collections. (She actually encourages you to keep your books if the thought of discarding them makes you mad.)
Why, then, do some bibliophiles get ranty at photos of spine-in books, or see red when a Kondo client throws another novel in his discard pile?
For many, it has to do with what books represent. Books don’t exist solely to spark joy! Books are objects of wonder, and souvenirs of our personal journeys! Our collections reflect our tastes and our personalities, and express them to any curious visitors who might come looking. They’re not mere decorative pieces or functional tools, and only a non-reader would treat them as such.
Books may mean a lot to some readers, but they don’t mean the same thing to all readers.
Or maybe they would.
Books may mean a lot to some readers, but they don’t mean the same thing to all readers. A skimpy shelf could mean someone hates books, or simply that they prefer ebooks and libraries. An overstuffed one might be just as self-consciously curated as a streamlined one. Those spine-in volumes could belong to someone who loves reading and favors a minimalist aesthetic.
There’s a difference between loving reading and fetishizing books. While there’s nothing wrong with the latter, it’s worth acknowledging the difference — if only so we can collectively stop flying into a blind rage whenever some Facebook rando shares a photo of the secret book safe they just DIYed.
There are exceptions and caveats, of course. Books that are rare or very old should probably be saved and preserved. Newer books could probably be donated or recycled, rather than trashed, for the sake of the environment. It also goes without saying that I’m talking here about personal collections; it’s obviously a much bigger problem if the government starts burning books, or a public library reorders them all by color just for the ‘gram.
As a general rule, though? Mind your own books, and let other people mind theirs.
If you can’t wait to KonMari some boring books out of your life, have fun tidying up. If you’d rather die by a billion paper cuts than let go of even one single volume, hold on to them for as long as you’d like. If you’d like to stock up on vintage volumes you won’t read to make yourself look smarter, or if you love judging people by their book collections — honestly, knock yourself out.
Whatever you decide to do, though, remember that it’s not the bound stacks of printed paper that matter. It’s what they do, what’s inside them, and what they mean to you that does. Maybe, just maybe, it’s time to cut everyone else a break for whatever they’re doing with their own piles of paper.