creative miscellany, Culture, Els' Rabbit Trails, joys of reading, the business of books

Discussion post: The Great KonMari Book Debate

bookslave
Picture credit

We’ve discussed before the advantages, limitations and broader implications of Marie Kondo’s best-selling book on de-cluttering and home organization. Quite recently, I even posted pictures of my kids’ attempts to organize their dresser drawers KonMari style for the purposes of fitting everything in such a way that each item is easily visible and easy to access.

While I was impressed with the patience and skill my kids demonstrated by turning their t-shirts and underwear into an origami project, I couldn’t quite bring myself to go that far. There’s no possible way I would ever, washing two loads of laundry per day, find the motivation let alone the time to sit and fold everything into neat little triangular shapes then line them up in the drawers.

Guess what? My kids haven’t stuck to it either. They made a valiant effort worth commending, especially knowing them as I do. The method simply isn’t realistic long term, but I digress. The merits folding one’s clothing origami style isn’t what prompted this post.

This is a blog about books, and despite the overwhelmingly positive response to Kondo’s admonition that we get rid of most of our junk, one thing which has drawn consistent howls of protest is her suggestion that those following her method scale their libraries down to no more than 30 books. Being a homeschool parent as well as a voracious reader, I dismissed that nonsense out of hand. Others however, have taken the time to dissect and contemplate the underlying implications of suggesting that we purge ourselves right out having any substantial home library at all. The delightfully poetic Rachel at Bay Boxwood put it thus:

It strikes me as odd that one of the first edicts handed down by the pop-minimalist scolds is The Culling of the Books.

Don’t get me wrong, if you’re hanging on to a houseful of junky or unread books and paper ephemera, then cull away, you’ll probably be glad you did – but – considering the amount of unworn clothing, abandoned craft projects, ancient canned goods, and broken everything in peoples living spaces, it just seems like there are better places to start de-cluttering and un-owning, and that perhaps once the rest of the mess is resolved the books are a collection worth keeping.

Given that beautifying living spaces is what she does, I’ll defer to her authority on that issue, and agree with it wholeheartedly.  Being given to conspiratorial imaginations complete with visions of elitist machinations in smoke-filled rooms, I am immediately wary of attempts to encourage the masses to do away with hard copies of books for different reasons.

Y’all can cancel the paddy wagon. Tongue is planted firmly in cheek, but I do consider it unwise to trap our most beloved books in digital formats which are much easier to delete or manipulate. More than that however, is that there are few things at all which spark joy, inspire thought, and disseminate wisdom than great books. I loved the wistfully exciting way Bethany Fiction said it:

Do you know what brings me joy? BOOKS! Adventures to times and places I’ll never visit in the “real” world, deep journeys into hope and heartbreak, thrilling escapades where someone won’t get out alive but I probably will, somewhat-confusing classics I had to read for school that made me a better person even if I didn’t appreciate them at the time…I love them all.

I mean, it’s great to have a few travel mementos that bring a smile every time you look at them, don’t get me wrong, but books contain whole worlds—the lives and journeys of beloved friends we’ve admired and empathized and learned from. The joy quotient is just through the roof. Libraries and bookstores spark so much joy that they might as well be actual infernos of happiness. (Is that a little Fahrenheit 451? Maybe. But you get the idea.) And if your house just happens to resemble a library or bookstore…all the better!

I really appreciate that she invoked Fahrenheit 451.

Writing for The Guardian,  Anakana Scholfield reminds us that not every book we read is going to spark joy, and sometimes this is a very good thing:

The metric of objects only “sparking joy” is deeply problematic when applied to books. The definition of joy (for the many people yelling at me on Twitter, who appear to have Konmari’d their dictionaries) is: “A feeling of great pleasure and happiness, a thing that causes joy, success or satisfaction.” This is a ludicrous suggestion for books. Literature does not exist only to provoke feelings of happiness or to placate us with its pleasure; art should also challenge and perturb us.

We live in a frantic, goal-obsessed, myopic time. Everything undertaken has to have a purpose, outcome or a destination, or it’s invalid. But art doesn’t care a noodle about your Apple watch, your fitness goals, active lifestyle, right swipes, career and surrender on black pudding. Art will be around far longer than Kondo’s books remain in print. Art exists on its own terms and untidy timeline.

As for culling one’s unread books – while that may be essential for reducing fire and tripping hazards, it is certainly not a satisfying engagement with the possibilities of literature. (Unless it’s self-help or golf, in which case, toss it.) Success is, eventually, actually reading your unread books, or at least holding on to them long enough that they have the chance to satisfy, dissatisfy or dement you. Unread books are imagined reading futures, not an indication of failure.

Some of the most rewarding books I own, beginning with my Bible, have grieved, challenged, and stretched me in the most painful yet rewarding ways. Several are worth re-reading again and again, sharing with friends, and passing along to my children and their children.

Despite my predilection for book collection, I am a fervent supporter of local libraries and encourage their patronage for books that we enjoy exploring which are, for whatever reasons, not worth retaining in our personal libraries.

The bigger takeaway from all of this is that each of us, rather than being carried away by the cultural wave of the moment, needs to use wisdom and discretion when it comes to what we own, how we spend our money, and how we decide which experts of the moment are worth listening to.The way I feel about my books is the way my husband feels about his tools. Some of the more obscure specialty tools might only be used  yearly, but when needed, they are worth every penny and whatever bit of space they occupy.

Materialism and collection of worthless clutter is expensive and causes unnecessary stress. That’s something most all agree on. How we approach Marie Kondo’s needed invitation to examine our relationship with our stuff will be as varied as each of our homes and families.

How many books in your library are you willing to part with?

 

 

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joys of reading, nonfiction, the business of books

The book I’ve been waiting for is here!

 

digital minimalism
Ignore the Latin declensions in the background…

 

Today, Amazon* delivered my pre-ordered copy of Cal Newport’s Digital Minimalism to our front door. I was so excited I started reading it right away. Life being what it is, I’ve only gotten as far as the introduction before I had to put it aside, but I’m enjoying what I’m reading so far.

Stay tuned for a review in the near future!

*Yeah, I ordered it from Amazon. I’m making a concerted effort to reduce the number of dollars I send the way of Mr. Bezos, but sometimes my American addiction to convenience gets the best of me.

Culture, Els' Rabbit Trails, joys of reading, Uncategorized

How well do you incorporate the ideas you read?

I am preparing to pre-order Cal Newport’s soon to be released Digital Minimalism. I don’t know for sure that there will be a whole lot inside that I haven’t considered at one point or another, but I like what he has to offer, and I like the idea of all of these considerations packaged into one book.

I’ve run the gamut as it relates to managing technology as a part of my life, going from way too much of it, to fasts of varying lengths, and everything in between. Even having reached what I think is a fairly balanced way of doing things (I’ll get to that in a minute), I still want to read his book.

Reading books which encourage me in the areas where I need or want to maintain improvement is vital for me. I can easily find myself getting overwhelmed or distracted by the stuff of life in ways that tempt me to resort to unhealthy or less productive ways of getting things done. By that I mean running in circles, feeling stressed, and demanding that everyone else join me in my madness so that “we get this stuff done already!” It’s a strategy, and I use that word loosely, which produces the exact opposite of what I want to accomplish.

Inspired in part by Hearth’s recent review of the book Boundaries, I thought a discussion of how books impact any changes we make might be interesting.  I’ll get the ball rolling by recounting a few of the ways books I’ve read have helped me make changes.

  • The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: I still struggle with this one occasionally, for reasons I explored in my original review.  I do purge quite regularly however, and the post-Christmas purge is underway right now. Usually, our -younger- children balk when I start discarding their things. However, inspired by their older sisters, who have been rather captivated my Marie Kondo’s broadcast version of her books, they’ve caught the purging bug as well. They did this without me standing over them to supervise like a drill sergeant:

konmari1

konmari2

 

  • Deep Work: I just realized that I never reviewed this book. Obviously, I’ve been influenced by the work of Cal Newport, and one of the biggest takeaways from his writing is the damaging effects of social media, particularly via use of smartphones:

“Once your brain has become accustomed to on-demand distraction, Nass discovered, it’s hard to shake the addiction even when you want to concentrate. To put this more concretely: If every moment of potential boredom in your life—say, having to wait five minutes in line or sit alone in a restaurant until a friend arrives—is relieved with a quick glance at your smartphone, then your brain has likely been rewired to a point where, like the “mental wrecks” in Nass’s research, it’s not ready for deep work—even if you regularly schedule time to practice this concentration.”

The biggest change I made to help improve my attention (scientists suspect humans are down to a highly debatable 8 seconds) and ability to be distracted is removing certain apps and notifications from my phone. After deleting Instagram and WordPress, relegating them to laptop use only (unless I am uploading content), I dramatically reduced my use of technology without having to do anything else. There is still -as always in life- some room for improvement, but I’m satisfied with the changes and the resulting uptick in productive use of my time both in work and at leisure.

  • Keto Clarity: I have never been able -for various reasons- to jump into the ketogenic lifestyle with both feet and never look back, mainly because I love fruit and baking, in that order. In fact if it wasn’t for the horror I felt at the idea of never eating apples in the fall or peaches, pears, or mangoes in the summer, I might have stuck in out. Alas, I am a tropical gal and I love my tropical fruits. I have however, once and for all accepted the reality of ditching grains from my diet. I dropped the ball over the holidays of course. In the two weeks since the new year began, the difference in my skin, eyes, sleep and appetite since cutting grains and processed sugar is -as usual- remarkable. I suppose It Starts With Food should be included here as well.
  • The Power of a Praying Wife: I used this is two ways. The first was referring it to a dear wife who could use some targeted direction in praying for a husband at a difficult time. Doing that was a good refresher for me of topics I could use to pray for my own husband. Given that he is in a transitory period right now, it was a great reminder for me.
  • Life Together and The Benedict Option: These are both books which, in different ways, highlight the importance of engaged, intimate, Christian community and how it enhances our lives. In our individualistic, increasing atomized and dysfunctional culture, these are important principles for Christians to remember.

How does your reading translate into life action or change? Does you reading translate into life action or change?

 

 

 

children's books, Christian, Classics, Culture, Els' Rabbit Trails, joys of reading, Uncategorized

In the Queue…

Today was a library run day. What started out as a quick trip to pick up a specific book, Thomas Sowell’s latest Discrimination and Disparities, ended with my checking out the Bible sized Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan.

Friedan’s seminal work is one of those books that I’ve read a lot about, and read a lot of excerpts from, while never actually reading the book to take in the entirety of Friedan’s arguments and the conclusions she drew. I don’t expect the reading to soften my disdain for the havoc she unleashed along with Simone de Beauvoir, author of The Second Sex.

However, I have learned over the years that many of the most notoriously damaging social thinkers and commentators in recent history had their fingers on the pulse of a real problem. It was their prescriptions which were toxic and culturally destructive. So I am reading The Feminine Mystique, but not until I finish with Thomas Sowell. Priorities!

I am also in the final stages of reading through Hippies of the Religious Right by Preston Shires. This is, so far a highly enlightening book and one that I look forward to exploring here.  In other words, there is some heavy reading going on here at present, but not all of the reading is heavy.

I also just finished The Adventures of Tom Sawyer with my kids, who had to read it for school. Whimsical, funny, and astute, it was a fun read and the perfect counter balance to all the weightier philosophical, cultural, and religious writings that have occupied my reading time. Because Tom Sawyer is such a well known and widely read work, I have decided not to review it here, but I will offer one of my favorite quotes from it:

“He had discovered a great law of human action, without knowing it—namely, that in order to make a man or a boy covet a thing, it is only necessary to make the thing difficult to attain. If he had been a great and wise philosopher, like the writer of this book, he would now have comprehended that Work consists of whatever a body is OBLIGED to do, and that Play consists of whatever a body is not obliged to do.”

Lastly, Advent is upon us, beginning on Sunday December 2, and after much research and exploration, we have rested on Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s God is in a Manger as the devotional for this year. Reflecting as we commemorate the Advent of the Savior is important to us, and I am really looking forward to this devotional.

That’s what’s in my queue. Do tell:

What is in YOUR reading queue as the end of 2018 rushes upon us?

children's books, fiction, genres, iconic characters, joys of reading, just for fun

Our love affair with magical nannies.

mary poppins

There was a nanny debate the other night in our house. No, we’re not considering getting a nanny! The debate centered upon which is the most magical magical Nanny. Is it Nanny McPhee  (originally Nurse Matilda) or Mary Poppins? After this post at Of Maria Antonia recently reminded me of the similarly delightful Mrs. Piggle Wiggle, I came away wondering about our love affair with magical nannies, and began Googling in an earnest search for others I may have forgotten.

Including the delightful dog Nanna in J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan,  it was clear that the magical nanny trope extends beyond my original limited imagination of what a magical nanny is. She’s not only characterized by the possession of literal magical powers, but also has a magical effect on the entire family as she serves. The literary blog Slap Happy Larry outlines the general story arc of children’s books which employ the magical nanny trope:

  • The parents are colourless and unremarkable except for their utter cluelessness.
  • The nanny might be actually magic, or seems to work magic due to being a ‘child whisperer’
  • The children are highly spirited tricksters
  • The nanny sees right through the children and although she may have a harsh exterior, has a heart of gold
  • The children are at least upper middle class
  • Nanny stories of the old-fashioned kind, set in large houses, are probably from an earlier era such as the Edwardian
  • The plots tend to be episodic rather than dramatic, with each day bringing a new adventure which is over and solved by bedtime. But there is still a character arc whereby the children become better behaved (or more morally upstanding) by the end of the story.

Mrs. Piggle Wiggle, an American story, necessarily demands a slightly different twist on the notion than we find in the the other renown stories, typically written by British authors. In contrast to Nurse Matilda, Mary Poppins, or even Nanna, Mrs. Piggle Wiggle doesn’t live with her charges. Instead, she is a kindly neighborhood lady whom all the children love and all the parents trust to know just the trick to rectify their children’s bad or detrimental behavior.

This short exploration doesn’t even begin to address the numerous nannies and nursemaids to be found in adult literature, who are far more likely to have a significant effect than magical powers. The unrefined but devoted Mrs. Wix from Henry James’ What Maisie Knew springs to mind here. I’m not sure I could even exhaust the list in a short post as short as this one. This leads  me to the question:

What is it about the magical nannies that grabs hold of our imaginations and makes us enjoy them so? I have my own hypothesis, but I’d much rather hear yours first!

 

 

 

 

Els' Rabbit Trails, joys of reading, Uncategorized

The Great 2018 Book Purge.

Great Book Purge a bit of an exaggeration, but there will be a thinning. When it’s done I’ll fill you readers in on the final tally. It is the time of year when I begin my year-end cleaning blitz. I suppose fall is when I tackle the equivalent of Spring Cleaning.

I am not much of a spring cleaner. In springtime, my energy is mostly directed towards end of school year activities both in my house and out of it. There are a few annual checklist items, such as calling HVAC companies, pest control, and sprucing up the yard after winter, such as winter is here. But deep spring cleaning? It’s just not my thing.

For me, fall cleaning is where it’s at!  Since we are finally getting a taste of fall (and by fall I mean daily highs below 85), my sudden itch to begin the New Year with an organized, deeply cleaned house is ready to be scratched. With that comes the dreaded task of figuring out which books to keep and which ones to toss.

As I noted in my review of The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, as much as that process speaks to the rabid minimalist inside me, I don’t live alone. Ruthless purging would be an extremely challenging undertaking, fraught with family drama not worth the rewards. I purge little by little, one closet, cabinet and bureau at a time.

However, I am in charge of 90% our library. I could, theoretically, pare down to the 30 books Marie Kondo suggests. I won’t because it’s not a feasible solution for our family, but I could. This article from Lithub explores the emotional connection bibliophiles have to books and the angst that can comes with deciding which ones “spark joy” and which should be tossed on the pile. Some books really are one and done reads, or books we acquired knowing full well we might never get to them; not now or in the future. For the true book lover, however, it is not as simple as that. From the Lithub piece:

It occurred to me that part of the reason why tackling the “books” stage of the Full Kondo seems so daunting is that to many of us our books don’t really belong in the category she has assigned. They are not impersonal units of knowledge, interchangeable and replaceable, but rather receptacles for the moments of our lives, whose pages have sopped up morning hopes and late-night sorrows, carried in honeymoon suitcases or clutched to broken hearts. They are mementos, which she cautions readers not to even attempt to contemplate getting rid of until the very last.

To be fair, Kondo no longer thinks that ripping books to pieces is a good idea, but it’s telling to learn that she herself once did this to save space. Keeping parts of books might make sense if your entire library consisted of cooking or craft manuals, but sounds completely crazy when applied to novels or narrative nonfiction. Which chapters of Anna Karenina or In Cold Blood would you keep, for example? The picture Kondo paints is a bleak one, referring mostly to business books and textbooks, to “studying” and “necessary information.” The “classics” she refers to are not Dickens and Brontë but “authors like Drucker and Carnegie,” a management consultant and an industrialist, respectively. With no offense to those two illustrious professions, I am not very shocked that these didn’t “spark joy.”

None of this is to say that there aren’t books book lovers should be willing to dispose of. I suspect I will shed at least 30. That’s not even counting at least 20 on the shelves that were borrowed from or dropped off by friends and need to be returned. I have as many books floating around also. Either way, purging 50 books (well, maybe 40) is better than none.

I’m not sure how this round will end, but I am hopeful. Because I am currently gripped with the urge to purge nearly every space in the house that is within my domain, I think I’ll get rid of quite a few. I expect I’ll even lose a few that I never thought I’d part with, but there does come a point when you have to accept that you’re probably never going to pick up a certain books a finish it, and that there’s a reason for that.

Analyzing why certain books land on the pile might be a fun mental exercise, so stay tuned.

 

 

 

 

children's books, joys of reading

Beyond Early Readers — marginalia books

Our youngest two children -10 and 12- are beyond early reader and even the newly independent reader stages. They are currently reading Tom Sawyer for their literature class. However, those early years when young kids are just beginning to read independently are precious, and Marginalia Books offers some excellent suggestions for nurturing that stage of a child’s literary development.

 

My two oldest weren’t exactly fluent readers yet but old favorites like Mouse Soup and Frog and Toad were too easy. They needed something interesting and challenging but weren’t ready for most chapter books. Here are some of the early chapter books we found and loved: Mercy Watson Series by Kate DiCamillo We loved the […]

via Beyond Early Readers — marginalia books