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Do Your Books Need to Spark Joy?

By 14/01/2019January 25th, 2019books, reading
books spark joy

books spark joyLike all other Netflix households, Tidying Up with Marie Kondo has made its mark on ours, as well.  No, I haven’t gone on a manic cleaning and clutter-purging-binge like many others (though I know I need to, don’t we all? ), but I’ve wondered about the items that outnumber all others in my home: books.

I have books by the bedside, in the toilet, on the kitchen counter, and my study, of course. Our place isn’t huge to begin with, and now I’ve begun to feel a little like the camel owner whose camel has taken over his tent at night. There are more books than walking spaces, almost, and that does get a tad annoying at times, to be honest.

I’ve started giving away some of the books I’ve read, and am planning to give away more as the weeks and months and years go by. I tell myself I can always buy another copy if I really want to, or buy it on my reader, or borrow from the library. It is beginning to work. Slowly.

Then I come upon this article in the Guradian, and am having second thoughts. The author says:

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.

I tend to agree. I don’t possess self-help or golfing books (I find the former useless and the latter irrelevant), but the books I do possess, I intend to read. (I know I can’t possibly read all of them, there aren’t enough years.) I’ve got to live and do stuff and write and so on. I want to cling on to my books as long as I can though, and think I shall allow myself a few years more of bookish clutter.

What about you? Do you think your books spark joy? Is that important? Do you ever get rid of books? Why or why not?

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I co-host the monthly We Are the World Blogfest: I’d like to invite you to join, if you haven’t as yet, to post Fvourite Placethe last Friday of each month a snippet of positive news that shows our essential, beautiful humanity.

This monthly event has brought smiles on the faces of a lot of participants and their audiences, and somewhat restored their faith in humanity. Here’s a sampler. Click here to know more. We took a break for the holidays but will be back for the new year!  Sign up here and add your bit of cheer to the world on the next installment of January 25!

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Damyanti Biswas

Damyanti Biswas is the author of You Beneath Your Skin and numerous short stories that have been published in magazines and anthologies in the US, the UK, and Asia. She has been shortlisted for Best Small Fictions and Bath Novel Awards and is co-editor of the Forge Literary Magazine. Her forthcoming literary crime thriller, The Blue Bar is represented by Lucienne Diver from The Knight Agency, and will be published by Thomas & Mercer on January 1, 2023.

I appreciate comments, and I always visit back. If you're having trouble commenting, let me know via the contact form, or tweet me up @damyantig !

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55 Comments

  • We cleared out quite a few of our books, but in our case I think it was a good thing – we needed the space, and some of the books had been around more than our 35+ years of marriage. Tastes change, and in most cases, what appealed to you three decades ago doesn’t spark interest today.
    Still, there are some I hung onto because that spark is still there, and once (if) I’m retired I’ll have time to settle down with some of them and finish them (one way or another.)
    There are some books I will never let go of – no matter how many times I read them. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, Rowling’s Harry Potter and Card’s Ender’s Game books head the list. Those are the ones that give me joy – just seeing them on the shelf triggers me (in a good way.)

    • Damyanti Biswas says:

      I think I need to follow your example. I’ve taken out a few books, put them in a separate pile.

      Need to donate them before I’m tempted to put them back on the shelves!

  • As a former librarian, I get my books from the librarian and then buy the ones I know I’ll reread.

  • So glad you enjoyed the poems by my students. I posted more today and will continue to do so several times this week. I enjoyed reading this post of yours.

  • David J Cambridge says:

    I cleared out a great deal recently, and not just books that I wasn’t going to read again – I divested myself of CDs and DVDs too. There’s is just not enough time in the world for it all, so I refined it down to the core of things that meant the most to me, that had a specific memory or were particularly great. I think one of the things that makes me aware that I don’t want to keep lots of stuff is that my father is a hoarder, and one day I will have to deal with the heaps and heaps of accumulation that is really just a physical form of stagnation. Things need to keep moving, and my old things went into circulation for others to enjoy. Meanwhile, with the cash I raised, I bought a new guitar for playing open mic night.

  • simonfalk28 says:

    “Unread books are imagined reading futures.” 🙂 What a marvelous statement!

  • hilarymb says:

    Hi Damyanti – late commenting … but when I left Canada … more prematurely than I intended … I gave a whole lot of books away to the local 2nd hand bookstore and to the book group (things I thought they might be interested in reading (not all each book … but a choice – in fact they were ‘snapped’ up)). I hadn’t got to read so many and am still buying … so am quite pleased to see the Guardian’s article. I’m going to make an effort this year to ‘cruise’ through some of them = hope!! The book group … said an eclectic collection – if only they’d known the rest I took to the store, and the ones I brought back with me! Such is life … my books are precious with the potential doors that will open when I get around to reading them … cheers – great post – Hilary

    • Damyanti Biswas says:

      Books are indeed precious. Thanks for sharing your journey and your experience with them!

  • Alison Baker says:

    I just decided to count “personal library” as one item. Does that spark joy? Heck, yeah! Next…

  • Francine says:

    In our last move I gave away every book that I had no intention of reading twice. I’m an avid reader and started a book club 15 years ago and I had a large wall full of them. I don’t regret it a bit. I also never buy a book, till I’ve taken it out of the library to see if I’ll love it. If it doesn’t pass the muster, it doesn’t get a space in my book case.

  • Shell Vera says:

    I am an avid reader. As much as I enjoyed the show, when it came to books I couldn’t bring myself to decrease my collection. I may have even bought a few more just to put into the world more love for books! I have some I haven’t read, and others I’ve reread many times. I have thousands of books after dwindling down in 2014 for a move. I’ve toyed with starting tonreplace them with digital files but there is just something different – even in Kindle I have many books and have read most. I just find something more satisfying with flipping through pages of an actual book versus sitting on an electronic device reading a screen. This will be a battle of mine for a while. Great thoughts!

  • I love to read and collect books, although I have read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying, I could not apply it to my bookshelf :), I did it with my old clothes and other pieces of stuff.
    Meanwhile I have nominated you for the Sunshine Blogger Awards, I just wanted to 🙂

  • Shilpa Garg says:

    Ah! I can relate to this post. For a long long time, parting with my books was a very touchy subject. But then they were beginning to sabotage all the available space. So, last year, with a strong will and heart, I gave away some 100+ books to a library. Also, now that I am Kindle convert, I prefer reading ebooks. But yes, books will always be an integral part of my life and will never let go of my hand-picked books ever!

  • It’s good to keep those books that are old friends, but it’s also good to pass on those that have outlived their novelty and perhaps give them to a library so others can enjoy too. I rather like the idea of leaving a book somewhere to be found with a note inside inviting the wouldbe reader to do the same when they have finished.

    I speak with feeling as the owner of hundreds of books who has recently downsized and wondering where on earth I’m going to be able to get enough shelves to accommodate my old friends.Maybe I’ll let you know at some point in the future.

  • msw blog says:

    I am a book lover we have a actually library in our home, and every room has a stack of books I can’t imagine getting rid of them. I am a firm believer books pick you not the other way around…

  • Gina Gao says:

    I love reading and collecting books. Thanks for sharing!

  • I do have shelves filled with books. I had so many, I gave about 10 boxes to my daughters ship, for their onboard library. Since many are military and/or thrillers, it worked well. I have started changing to digital books but don’t find it nearly as satisfying to browse my Kindle library as my book shelves.

  • aj vosse says:

    I vehemently refuse to toss even one book!
    We cart boxes from house to house on every move… my good lady tells me I’m stupid… but, I’ll hang onto every book… I claim I’ll build a book wall – one day, when I grow up! 😉

  • Parul Thakur says:

    Yes. They do. You wouldn’t believe but at home, Papa has so many books that we have lost count. Should be over 10,000. There are multiple cupboards that only have books and layers of them. So growing up, our situation was like you. Where you go, there are fewer people and more books.
    And books are joy. I don’t hoard and like you I only have the ones I would read. 🙂

  • rani says:

    I love my books! That is the one thing I will not get rid of, as much as my husband would like for me to do. But I have still been going through and realizing that the ones I have read, it’s ok to share. The ones I will be getting to, I keep, and the ones I I know I won’t get to, I still keep!!! It’s a process as books spark joy! I do try to use the library as much as I can too!

  • I sincerely feel all the books, son’s and mine, in my home sparked joy in me. I could never think of giving them away. Yet, when I had to move to UK, I held a discounted sale of nearly all the children’s books I owned, rare and otherwise, for my apartment folks with the thought it might be good that these books found new home to reach the hands of new children rather than packing them away in storage. In case you ask why adding a price tag? I had picked up each picture book with utmost love and I wanted each one of them to be seriously read. Those who were really passionate about reading only turned up to buy.

    • Damyanti Biswas says:

      Yes, we who must move countries every once in a while, must sometimes part with our book collections. I lost mine when I moved out of India, but the ones bought ever since have gathered into their thousands…

      I’m glad you were able to rehome your books.

  • As much as I like buying new books, I also like to give away the ones that didn’t spark a joy in me (yes there are books like that too). And somehow I feel good after decluttering or giving away those books. I like to gift books – that’s one of the best gifts I find. In fact, for my daughter’s birthday return favours, I give books to her friends. I don’t know how many will read, but if I can encourage even 1 child to read, that’s a huge incentive for me.

    I would like to have a place where I am only surrounded by books or there are so many books that they are falling all over me. That’s my dream house. So Damyanti, I am kind of j of you. 🙂

  • Natasha says:

    Dear D,

    My two pence. I am a book hoarder and find it really tough to give them away. Yes, I do gift books that I have read and liked, in the hope of buying a new copy. Or I buy the same book that I have loved to be gifted to multiple friends. I’m not much of a Kindle reader, more so in a bid to stay away from the screen.

    It saddens me a bit that we have two huge cartons of our books lying at the storage company because we have no space to store them in our apartment anymore.

    This year I am hoping to read all the books I have collected in the last few years. And buy no more.

    I would like to start something like this some day: (The Take a Book, Leave a Book, concept)

  • bdkila says:

    I absolutely love all of my books. I got rid of a ton that didn’t serve me they were just handed to me since people know I enjoy a nice book. But the ones I have handpicked myself, remain close and shall remain close until I have no where to put them.

    I will get rid of a price of furniture just to replace it with a bookshelf. 🙂

    • Damyanti Biswas says:

      You sound like me, except I haven’t gotten rid of any books at all….

  • pjlazos says:

    Books! I have more of them than anything else and it pains me to get rid of them, especially if I loved them. Last summer I gave away 113 books to the library. So specific, right? 113. That’s because I love my books. I never get rid of books I haven’t read unless I don’t think I ever will and my new thing is I will only keep it if I think I’ll read it again. That said, I’ve only ever reread a few books in my life. One was Jitterbug Perfume and the other A Confederacy of Dunces, to the rereading chances are actually slim because, well, there’s so much new to read! Good luck paring down. It’s a tough job. xo

  • marianallen says:

    Sometimes I get rid of books without meaning to, when I lend one out that doesn’t come back. So I’ve started buying two copies of books I want to get into circulation: a hardback that stays with me, and a paperback I can lend. Sometimes I take books I’ve read or have decided I probably won’t read to a library re-sale store, or donate them to book drives for a library that has lost its collection to a natural disaster. Charlie and I go through our books every now and then and cull duplicates. And then we sometimes do, as you said, re-buy books we find we want after all. 🙂

  • akarags says:

    The only times I’ve gotten rid of books are the two times I’ve moved in the last twenty two years, both times of which have been in the last four years. They are part and parcel of my home and I love them, including the ones I haven’t read.

  • Abhijit Ray says:

    Yes getting rid of books is considered blasphemy. It is one thing to lend a book to someone. At least one knows that the book is with a person who cares. But to sell books or give it away somehow does not gel. But one has to balance out ideal from practical.

  • Lata Sunil says:

    Hi Damyanti, I am trying my best to contain the books. Now I buy them on my kindle, that ways its more eco-friendly. But, I am beginning to give away books to whoever wants to read it or putting it into a circulating library. As you mentioned, I could always buy one if I felt like re-reading. Of course, the ones I love are still held close.

  • arlene says:

    I don’t usually give away books but over the years, I have bought some which are already in my shelves. That’s when I give them to friends. I do re-reads.

  • Shaloo says:

    It’s hard to part with books. And it’s difficult to maintain the ever growing book collection. Kindle is the solution for me. Now I read mostly on kindle and buy very few paperbacks.

  • Debbie D. says:

    As a book hoarder, er, collector, this rings a few bells. 🙂 Our house is also small and I’ve had to stash many of them in the basement, where they sit, sadly gathering dust. Not to mention the unread stack of hardcovers in the bedroom. It would never occur to me to get rid of them, though. Sady, since developing this little internet addiction, there never seems to be enough time for reading. One of these days…

  • My books do spark joy, Damyanti. I read so many on my kindle now, that my hardcovers and paperbacks have become cherished items. I smile just looking at and remembering them. 🙂

  • JT Twissel says:

    I wouldn’t write if I didn’t think I could spark joy. Course, I may be delusion!

  • Library Staff says:

    As both a librarian and blogger, I truly love my books. That said however, a while back I decided to use freecycle to pass many of them on. Creating individual boxes on a variety of topics, I then freecycled them on, one box at a time. I did though, have many I chose not to part with, including those I read to my kids when they were young, perhaps one day gifting them to my kids. As far as my reading needs go, whether for pleasure or my blogs, I simple go to my local library.

  • Lexx Vorpahl says:

    I have a small amount of books but being prior military has made it that way (ebooks are weightless I have tons of those!) whenever we were moving we had a weight limit and unfortunately books are heavy lol! Anyway, I get rid of books that don’t bring me joy or that I won’t read again and again. I am particular about the books I do have and how I keep them. I opt for hardcover if/when possible. Her concept is great and I do think it has merit even though I know it’s hard to part with books. I’ve had to do it out of necessity but have also learned that utilizing the library is a wonderful experience. Along with this clutter just makes my anxiety worse so being a bit picky when it comes to books, for me, isn’t a terrible thing.

  • Jessica says:

    Same here. I got books EVERYWHERE in our 80sqm apartment. I love books like treasures, so whenever I wanted to organized them it never gets done because I ends up re-reading them. Due to sad and depressing reason my husband had to return and clear up our apartment 2 years ago and he said that whenever he thought that all the books was out, he always find another group. He’d been teasing ever since that we could build a library because I refuse to let go any of them. Hahaha ?

  • If your books are like old friends or you find pleasure in imagining what the read will be like, then I say it has passed the test of sparking joy! If you find happiness in it then by all means keep it!!

    However if you’re tripping over the stacks which are in the pathway to walk, then it might be a good idea to cull the overall quantity… or get to tidying other areas to have more space to put the treasures you love!!

    From what I’m seeing of Marie’s shows, she isn’t against certain items, she’s just teaching her method of reducing once a decision has been made to do so!!

    What I love about her is that she leaves it entirely up to the individual to make up their own minds about what they choose to keep, just as she allows each person to discover their own personal benefits of organizing and letting go!!

    If you’re feeling a little panicked about the thought of paring down or reducing something, then it isn’t actually the object which is creating that feeling but rather some deeper emotions! If you try to force yourself to just get rid of items, then you’ll forever feel resentment towards whoever “made” you do it!

    By focusing on whether an item brings joy, it can cross into the “sentimental” category, and it may be best to wait before trying to brutally tear those out of your life!

    Marie’s focus is also on thanking the items when we’re ready to let them go. This sounds very strange and somehow anthropomorphic to our ears, but this really is a great exercise in developing gratitude, for gratitude and joy live well together!

    Peace,
    Tamara

  • zazaxmilesoff says:

    Hey Damyanti, I’ve lived in 4 different countries. So whenever I move, there’s the question, what I should do with my dear books. But to be honest, when you move a lot or travel, you don’t want a lot of baggage, so I discovered 2nd hand stores for me, where I can exchange books even, without it ever getting too cluttered. Also, here in my new place (moved here in November) I’ve signed up with the local library. And I love my weekly visits there! So I get to indulge in lots of books without having the responsibility of owning them (I’m serious about this, when you love books, separation isn’t easy). There’s also those little boxes, they’re like little libraries, where you take a book and leave one. So maybe this could be some strategies for the future to at least limit the clutter? They work for me 🙂

    • Damyanti Biswas says:

      I move homes a fair bit as well, but have never left books behind. The next move might be fairly expensive, because books can be very heavy!

      You seem to have found a nice balance, and a good solution. I need to do that, as well.

  • excellent post. I have boxed books because our space is small, most of which I have read, some I will ‘get to’ because they were ‘DNF,’ or pages and pages of filler, leading to the inevitable, ‘why did I buy this?’ Ultimately, no joy. I love the books about people dealing with conflict (and big inner conflict). Even tear-provoking. Something to prick my soul to think. I have a particular author who does this repeatedly in all 12 of his books. He makes me think. I wonder at his minute to global understanding. I can’t wait for the next 5 books in the works. Those are pure joy. Plus tears. These are the depths I hope to write in my own work. Thank you for the reminder to put aside some of the books I have and know I will never read (at least, again), and eagerly read those I have yet to open.

    • Damyanti Biswas says:

      You’re most welcome, Claire. I think I needed the reminder, too.

  • Dane says:

    Of course my books spark joy. Like you I have one too many books stashed over the place. Nice article.

  • To me, books are like dear, old friends. There’s a measure of comfort and memories about them that makes it hard to get rid of them. (Because I’m not the kind of person that throws away friendships.) I think the fact that the story does kind of prompt the imagination to “see” experiences in a way similar to real memories has something to do with the attachment. Having said that, I have read the Mari Kondo book and the show is bookmarked in my list. And I’m in the midst of a divorce, so I have no choice but to weed down a three-bedroom home into what will eventually fit into a one-bedroom apartment. I haven’t weeded my books yet, but I have bookshelves in every room except the bathroom. I was an English literature major in university, so I even have my old course books for classes like Shakespeare, drama lit, world lit, linguistics, etc. I know it’s going to be an awful and painful job when I get to it.

    But since it’s the memories of reading the stories I cherish, and not the object itself, in most cases, I plan to do with my books what I’ve done with the other items that I’ve not truly be ready to let go of — take a picture. I’ve found that if I can take a picture of something I’m about to release, it’s a bit of a comfort. Chances are I will never need the picture. I may never even look at it again. But digitized like that, it can remain in my “library” without taking up real space. I am one of those people who always wanted a ceiling to floor library in my “forever future home”. But it’s just not going to happen. So, digital libraries are the next best thing. 🙂 (And that includes converting to ebooks for new books and using the library more often for books I can probably find again — like the works of Shakespeare. I will probably be very select about the books I’m hanging onto that I haven’t read yet. But some are just favorites that will have to be pried from my cold, dead hands: Clockwork Orange, anything by Tolkien, my Anne Rice collection including a signed edition, etc.

  • I began decluttering my closet with Konmari methods and today the best organized part of my home are the clothes and the laundry section. Coming to books, I still have the Enid Blytons and Agatha Christies I read as a child. You can guess how bad I am. I review books which means the free review copies will keep adding. Some, which I have no bonding with, I have exchanged for old books through OLX and some I give away at low prices on Amazon. But, that’s rare. And of course, the number of unread books doesn’t cease to haunt me. But I need to get to the ‘let go’ point soon. Thanks for this reminder, Damyanti.

  • We’ve gotten rid of a lot of paperbacks that I’ve already read. The hardbacks we keep, and the ones we haven’t read. Books are meant to give joy.

    • Damyanti Biswas says:

      This is where I need to get to.

      I don’t necessarily always get joy from books, sometimes they depress me but change my way of thinking–so joy is not always the criterion. Sometimes, it is the impact.

      That said, some of my books need to go to better homes–I need to gear up and get it all organized.

  • Joy Pixley says:

    I haven’t seen any of the Marie Kondo books or TV shows, but it’s impossible not to hear about them from friends. Completely separately from that movement, I did just go on a purge of my books over the holidays. It was something I’d been meaning to do for years. For me, it was the multiple shelves of books from my previous academic career, the one that I have to accept that I will never resume, that I am on another path now, for better or for worse. These books have been taking up a huge amount of space in my small apartment, and have been weighing heavy on my soul, too. When I finally faced up to it, it was cathartic to go through them and toss all the ones I knew I’d never read again, and keep only those few that still had meaning to me. My hope is that even though they are out of date by now, I can pass them on and someone else will find them useful — that they can bring someone else joy, as they once filled my mind with answers and possibilities.

    While I was reorganizing and databasing all my books (which was great), I found other books that did not bring me joy, that I had no interest in ever revisiting, and it gave me peace to toss those in the “give away” boxes too. Plus quite a few duplicates, bought when I didn’t realize I already owned that book — ouch! It made room in my home for the books that I *do* hope to read again someday, and now they are organized and orderly on the shelves, and I smile every time I look at them.

    • Damyanti Biswas says:

      This sounds like an ideal outcome, Joy.

      I wish I could gather the energy and industry needed to do this—I might be using this Guardian article to just hold on to the books, and be my lazy self. Right now, I’m in the middle of a first draft, and that always leaves me with less energy for real life.

      Thankyou for taking the time to share this with me, I now know that it is possible to do!

      • Joy Pixley says:

        I know what you mean: energy and industry are not always my strong points. Procrastination? Now *that* I am good at. It took me *years* to get up the gumption to do this, and even so, I had to trick myself into doing just a little bit at a time. It wasn’t until I was halfway into the project that I really got into the swing of it and decided yes, I want to reorganize ALL THE SHELVES. I had to spend a lot of time ahead of time processing al the various tasks, what I’d do first, imagining what it would look like when it was done. Then I found the perfect library app to use and that just set the whole ball in motion.

        I’m still not completely done, in that I’ve got eight boxes of give-away books sitting in my living room waiting to be carted off somewhere. But that’s a task for another day…

  • Rosie Amber says:

    I do de-clutter books, but only once I’ve read them. I find them new places to stay, with family, friends or give them to charity shops.

    • Damyanti Biswas says:

      That’s excellent! I think I’ll give mine to the library–let’s see. Still on the fence.

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