Which to Keep, Which to Part with: My Story of Books with Marie Kondo 

Sunday Spotlight

“Books are one of three things people find hardest to let go.”
–Marie Kondo

I first read Marie Kondo’s acclaimed book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up (Amazon | Indiebound) sometime in late 2014, after it started the news cycle rounds. I was also in the process of a lot of transitions, having just started my saturn return and I devoured anything that helped me get the smallest dose of sanity.

As a Pisces, I am an extremely sensitive person. That sensitivity is in all levels: whether it’s in awkward situations where I can’t help but read body language and try to control the urge to alleviate it, or a movie about dogs and their emotions which leaves me with a tear-stricken face after the first five minutes.

I’m attuned to my surroundings in ways I myself find weird and interesting at the same time, like how I dislike going to certain stores if clothes or items on sale are in disarray (online shopping saved me). I’m particularly sensitive to places, atmosphere and surrounding environment, which is why I’m also the happiest in nature or when I’m next to the beach.


I treat my place / room as a sacred sanctuary, which is why reading Kondo’s book helped me a great deal. For the most part, I found it extremely helpful as I began to narrow down the things I owned. Asking the simple question of “does this bring me joy?” while trying to figure out whether to keep a certain belonging or not worked for me. It made me realize how much I can really live with less, even though I was never a materialistic person to begin with.

Kondo’s “KonMari” method relies on making a few lifestyle changes when it comes to the stuff that we buy. What she teaches is mindfulness when it comes to our belongings, and treating them beyond objects. She encourages an emotional bond wiht our belongings, like treating shoes and bags with care and gratitude, as opposed to seeing them as disposable which capitalism would have us rather be doing.

From clothes to old letters to photographs, even birthday cards, the KonMari method helped me narrow things down and really get to the core of what these things conveyed for me. I was happy with what she was teaching.

Except when it came to her method for sorting and discarding books. She instructs the reader by pulling books out of the shelves to “gently wake them up” or bring them to consciousness and lay them out on the floor. If there are too many books, she suggests piling them in categories.

Once you have piled your books, take them in your hand one by one and decide whether you want to keep or discard each one. The criterion is, of course, whether or not it gives you a thrill of pleasure when you touch it. Remember, I said when you touch it. Make sure you don’t start reading it.

[…]

So when deciding which books to keep, forget about whether you think you’ll read it again or whether you’ve mastered what’s inside. Instead, take each book in your hand and decide whether it moves you or not. Keep only those books that will make you happy just to see them on your shelves, the ones that you really love.

I suddenly remembered all the books I would get at book sales which have gathered dust, books I got as gifts that I never cracked open, and other books that I’ve planned to read but haven’t found the time. I was definitely keeping books that I probably don’t even remember. I was grateful to Kondo’s advice for helping me become more intentional about what books to keep. 

I started going through my shelves, doing exactly what she told. By the end of the process, I had about three boxes of books that I was ok parting with. What I realized was that the more we know ourselves, the easier it’ll be. I had so many unread books about political theories acquired over the years that I didn’t even stop to think if those were what I was really seeking. It was ok for me to give those away because I knew exactly where my politics lie at the moment.

If you missed your chance to read a particular book, even if it was recommended to you or is one you have been intending to read for ages, this is your chance to let it go. You may have wanted to read it when you bought it, but if you haven’t read it by now, they book’s purpose was to teach you that you didn’t need it.

I left these boxes out on the street and by the end of the day, only a few titles were left on the sidewalk.


While I resonated with Kondo’s sentiment on timing and purpose of books, I also disagree. I kept some books that I haven’t read by the time I was sorting, books that I eventually read when I felt that it was the “right time.”

bell hooks’s All About Love (Amazon | Indiebound) was sitting on my shelf for a couple of years, but it wasn’t until I was going through a breakup that I reached for it. I was looking for a specific book on my shelf when I came upon it, and it proved to help my healing process tremendously.

Books are essentially paper — sheets of paper printed with letters and bound together. Their true purpose is to be read, to convey the information to their readers. It’s the information they contain that has meaning. Their is no meaning in their jsut being on your shelves.

I had to resist the urge to throw this book across the room when I got to this part. Instead, I smiled. This is Kondo’s lifework — tidying up — so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that she thinks this way. But for a bibliophile like me and many, many others, books aren’t just paper.

They are many things to the reader, beyond just paper. They’re friends, companions, reminders, whole worlds. They represent different things to different people. When I see the spine of a specific book I’ve read before, I am reminded of the book’s lessons, where I was at that specific time of my life, who I was in those moments. And I always feel a wave of gratitude was over me, a spiritual connection almost.

I know that I will not reread many of the books I keep, but they will be there when the time when I’ll need them the most. As a book blogger as well, my bookshelves provide visceral inspiration and ideas for future book blog posts.

While I’m happy and grateful for Kondo’s method, I think of books beyond clutter, beyond paper. For people like me, they could almost amount to everything. Erasmus said it best:

When I have a little money, I buy books; and if I have any left, I buy food and clothes.

What We Really Talk About When We Talk About Love, with Alain de Botton (Part 2)

Book Reviews, Soul + Spirit

This is a two-part book review of Alain de Botton’s The Course of Love.
The first part can be found here

* * *

After listening to Michael Krasny’s interview of Alain de Botton on KQED’s Forum, I headed out to see him speak in Corte Madera that evening. The bookstore north of San Francisco was already filled thirty minutes before the event; I was pleased to see that there were other people of color there who were eager to hear about what he had to say about love.

But it all begins and ends with romance. As soon as de Botton took the stage, he started talking about romanticism right away.

All sorts of other notions run through romanticism: for all of us, there is a soul mate out there. Maybe we’ve met them, maybe we haven’t met them so we keep swiping left, right, left, right. When we find them, it will be delightful — we will never be lonely again. All of our questions, all of our doubts about our purpose, meaning and significance in life will be answered by someone who understands us totally and reconciles us in every way we exist.

Peals of laughter grew as he pointed out other notions of Romanticism that we’ve come to normalized, things we’ve never questioned before. Just like in the book, he launched into a clear-eyed examination of our feelings about love and the way we’ve related to potential partners or lovers on all aspects.

In the first part of my book review for The Course of Love, I wrote about five things that I learned:

  1. Love is a skill, not an enthusiasm.
  2. What we look for in love unconsciously are patterns of childhood familiarity.
  3. One of love’s oddities: sulking.
  4. The opposite of nagging is negotiating and understanding patiently.
  5. Teaching our partners may be one of love’s greatest gifts.

Just as I was talking about the book’s main characters Rabih and Kirsten in that post and ways of looking at love, I want to probe even deeper. I’m interested in  extending the conversation beyond what we already know and have come to accept. My goal is to understand the process that de Botton writes about:

It will take Rabih many years and frequent essays in love to reach a few different conclusions, to recognize that the very things he once considered romantic — wordless intuitions, instantaneous longings, a trust in soul mates — are what stand in the way of learning how to be with someone. He will surmise that love can endure only when one is unfaithful to its beguiling opening ambitions, and that, for his relationships to work, he will need to give up on the feelings that got him into them in the first place.

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#GetLit: Bibliotherapy

#GetLit

I’ve long been a fan of writer and philosopher Alain de Botton  who founded The School of Life (TSOL), which is devoted to creating emotional intelligence with the help of culture. One of the many services of TSOL is called Bibliotherapy, a therapy session that “helps you explore your relationship with books and guide you to anew literary direction.” I gushed at this idea because, well, this whole blog is dedicated to literature.

Ceridven Dovey wrote about her experience with TSOL’s Bibliotherapy, calling the session a “gift” after corresponding with Bibliotherapist Ella Barthoud.

We had some satisfying back-and-forths over e-mail, with Berthoud digging deeper, asking about my family’s history and my fear of grief, and when she sent the final reading prescription it was filled with gems, none of which I’d previously read.

It’s not the first time that I’ve read about this idea — I had, once, a delightful and enchanting experience reading Nina George’s The Little Paris Bookshop. I wrote about it here too, and it was such a joy to meet Monsiuer Perdu, the bookshop’s owner.

It turns out that this is not a new practice, as Dovey references A Literary Clinic that first appeared in The Atlantic Monthly back in 1914. She points out that today, bibliotherapy comes in different forms such as literature courses and reading circles. The demand for literature, it seems, is growing even as we move towards an age of instantaneous information. There’s Oprah’s Book Club, and there’s also classes like The Craft of Reading at the UC Berkeley Extension.

In the Spring of 2015, I enrolled in the online class where I was introduced to the work of Alice Munro, Marguerite Duras and Iris Chang. Engaging in discussions with other readers in class was exhilarating — demystifying Duras’s The Lover was a thrill, and so was crossing Munro’s verbal landscapes.

I’ve also engaged in mini-bibliotherapy sessions myself: recommending Miguel Ruiz’s The Four Agreements to a friend and my sisters; how I’ve given bell hooks’s All About Love to previous lovers at the beginning our soon-to-fail relationships (since 2012, a period of turmoil); gifting Michael Pollan’s Food Rules one Christmas to my mother’s siblings (all nine of them); giving a copy of John Perkins’s Confessions of an Economic Hit Man to my father, so he could see the scope of American imperialism from a different lens; and countless other times.

Below are a few of my musts, books that I’ve gone back to several times, titles that I’ve shared with loved ones and strangers. They are timeless, generous and full of illumination. From my bookshelf to yours, here’s my version of literary prescription.

Bibliotherapy: Straight from Libromance

 Autobiography of a Yogi  The Lover  All About Love: New Visions  The Icarus Deception: How High Will You Fly?  The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom

 How Proust Can Change Your Life  Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches  Letters to a Young Poet  Zami: A New Spelling of My Name  The Sympathizer