There’s been a lot of backlash to Marie Kondo’s attitude toward books, thanks to her new Netflix show. In her book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, she encourages readers to get rid of all their unread books. She says that she personally only owns 30 titles. Her critics say that’s ridiculous, and in fact you should cover your home in books.
But in reacting against Kondo, her critics end up making her case: one writer says, “My friends often trip over my novels when they come over...I recently moved a heap next to my bed to serve as a secondary nightstand.” This is in an article meant to make book-hoarding sound good. Novelist Anakana Schofield says “every human needs a v extensive library.”
No, every human needs Vitamin D. While a big library can be very satisfying, do not get bullied into it. That’s as bad as being bullied into getting rid of it.
On her show, Kondo doesn’t always enforce her 30-book rule. Here’s a shot from episode 6, taken after a couple has finished winnowing their books:
That’s not a huge stockpile of books, but it’s a lot more than 30, and it doesn’t even include the children’s books. So in practice, Kondo leaves a lot of wiggle room.
That’s great, because her rules are flawed. In her book, she claims “there is no meaning in [books] just being on your shelves.” She is wrong. The books you read convey meaning to you; the books you keep convey meaning to others. The best reason to keep books in your home is to show them off to other people.
This sounds vain. It is, a bit. But think about clothing. Beyond a few basics, most of our clothing choices are about what we signal to others, not our physical needs. This is why we dress to look professional, or with the logo of our favourite band, or to signal that we “don’t care how we look.” We care what other people think, usually within reason.
Like clothing, your personal library is a set of choices you’ve made, and it’s not ridiculous for people to make assumptions about you based on those choices. They’ll assume you’re interested in the books you’ve kept, whether or not you’ve read them. They’ll also assume you’ve read some of these books. If they spot Mein Kampf on your shelf, they might want to know whether you have a really good reason. And if you have very few books, people will at least unconsciously assume that you don’t read a lot—unless you give them a reason to think otherwise.
If you truly don’t care what people think, go ahead and get rid of all the books you want. Or keep your three shelves of self-help books and movie novelizations and every book you were assigned in college.
But if you do care, that is also OK! Don’t keep books that you have no intention of reading, or books you actually hate or wouldn’t like to talk about. But do hang onto the ones you liked or hope to read. Pick up used copies of books you liked years ago. Books are a conversation piece.
The correct number of books to own is whatever feels comfortable, whatever projects the image you want to project, and whatever fills the space you’ve allocated. If anyone tells you otherwise, they’re selling something.