Tuesday, I went to the library book sale and left with 12 books. Sure, three of those were art books for Zac and one of the novels I bought I already read last year and loved, rendering it a neutral addition to my physical bookshelf.
I’m not sure there is room in our moderately sized apartment for the additional books. There certainly isn’t much available room where I usually keep my books. A couple months ago, that probably would have made me feel a little guilty.
I don’t feel guilty today.
This was going to be the year I stopped doing this–filling our apartment with more books when I already own so many I need to read. I think this was also supposed to be the year I stopped going to bed at 1am and started drinking enough water every day…maybe that was last year. Either way, I’m not good at doing either consistently.
A few weeks ago, I came across a post on Book Riot reminding me I should feel bad about my bookshelf and should donate its contents. Instead of giving in this time, I got increasingly annoyed with the writer’s premise (sitting aside the writer’s use of a John Waters quote as a clunky and unnecessary frame): a bookshelf will show you what kind of person you are→ but keeping all those books to yourself is selfish→ donate your books so you aren’t “caging knowledge.” It isn’t the first time I’ve been presented with this argument and it might make sense if libraries still kept books on chains and if all the books I owned weren’t in relatively wide circulation (I doubt I own anything out of print. Some of the books I own are no longer bound by copyright laws and are actually available for free.) I’m not caging a damn thing. My local prison library charity doesn’t want the books I have. I checked a while back. I (and they) would be better served if I just gave them money to buy what the prisoners need. Most charities would be better served with your cash, not your old, battered copy of War and Peace.
There is a dictatorial strain to this kind of minimalist think piece. It isn’t enough for the writer here to remove the clutter from their own life, they have to try and make you feel bad for not following their lead. Why else consider the personal library in terms of greed and luxury? Not just this post. I’ve read a lot these and most of them, whether they’re about books or clothing or size of the place where you keep those books and clothes, are at least a little judgmental, if not deliriously so. You should want to clear out your space in order to clear out your mind. You should want to clear out your space to distance yourself from materialism. You should want to clear out your space so you take up less space. On one level, I get it. It’s a lot easier to clean an small empty room but my brain would still go in seven thousand directions in a small empty room. I don’t want my home to look like a hotel room or a safe house. I want my home to look like I live there.
At first, I wasn’t sure why this post, in particular, bugged me so much. It’s not fundamentally different. I assumed it had to be defensiveness on my part. I had the same reaction to The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up but I ended up clearing out a few bags from my closet and boxes from my bookshelf. I didn’t feel better or worse for having done it. I could probably clear out a box or two right now and forget in a week what I’ve given up…but I don’t want to and I really don’t want to be told I should.
You can see my books from the street outside our apartment. They announce themselves. It took me time and money and paper cuts and student loans to acquire them. A lot of them are used, purchased from dusty shops and library book sales. I sneezed rummaging through stacks and hit my head on low doorways to get these books. I had to poop in public restrooms. Some of these books are full of my tiny notes. On the front inside cover of a handful these books, my mother has written my name and the date the book was purchased. They are all cataloged so I don’t accidentally buy a second copy of Middlemarch or Middlesex. They all represent a concerted effort on my part, even the ones I haven’t read yet.
Maybe that is what’s become so irritating about all of this–minimalism gives the appearance of effortlessness and effortlessness is fucking tiring.
I’m letting go of effortlessness. I’m not effortless. No woman with bangs is. I have to work at just about everything I do. There’s joy in that work, certainly. No one who has ever had the pleasure of disagreeing with me could say I don’t enjoy making my case (except, perhaps, my own mother.) Last year, I taught myself how to crochet. The year before I learned to tap dance. I’ve read books about moss for fun. I delight in the work. But believe me, it was all an effort.
Some morning it takes a lot to get out of bed. Some nights, it takes even more to settle down and get into it. Does the stack of books by my bed make it easier to sleep at night? I have no idea but it’s something to throw at an intruder. I have no idea what a minimalist could grab during a home invasion. The one giant monstera plant they own is probably too heavy and too expensive to lob. Me? I still have my first field hockey stick.
It’s silly to let a 500-word essay on a book site rile me up this much, even if it was an infuriating 500 words. Maybe this should be the year I stop caring about stuff like this (I’m still trying for the hydration…seltzer water counts, right?) I’m just going to be the woman with too many striped shirts and more books than she can possibly read. If you’re cool about it and never mention what I nightmare they’d be to pack, I might lend you one of them. But I am going to ask for it back. It’s mine.