Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Uncluttererising Part Two; or The One Where I Say Bad Things About Books

The uncluttering project is going slowly. It's hard to organise things when you're also trying to keep a crawler away from powercords or from eating all those important bits of paper and/or the dead bugs that accumulate behind piles of said important papers. Things are in that stage where, if you know what you're looking for, you can tell there is order among the chaos, but if you don't all you can see is chaos.

Now, I/we have lots of books, which is appropriate for a tertiary educated suburban four-wheel driving family. Indeed, I suspect most of my friends, regardless of marital, reproductive or automotive status would have lots of books, and some would announce the fact with just a little too much smug pride for my liking. 

The fact is that books are just books. Books are not, contrary to our beliefs, fundamentally Good. They are objects, they collect dust and they sit patiently on the shelf, waiting for the next time you need them.. Which in most cases is Never.

Generally when you hang on to items you have used only once, if ever, and stubbornly refuse to let them go it is because they have some deep sentimental bond to a person or experience we treasured. Maybe for some books that is the case, too. But I believe most of the time we hang on to books because of what they represent on a more general, cultural level. Books represent knowledge, intellect, literacy - all things we value. And like to show off.

I'm not above the tendency, of course. I have a shelf of all the paperbacks I had to buy for readings during undergrad (use the library copy? How gauche!). There they sit: Maman a un amant, The Secret Garden, Les Fleurs du Mal, Death in Venice, The Radetzky March, Life on the Outside, Readings in Indonesian Culture... Some I haven't touched for ten years. Am I going to throw them away? Of course not - I'm a student, and students are supposed to have books! Besides, if they weren't there people wouldn't know how frighteningly well-read I am. Or was.

I thought I was bad. But, as I slowly started placing some books in the donate/sell- pile, Ben walked in on me.

"You can't give away books! It's wrong!"

As if getting rid of excess clutter was equivalent to punching Western civilization in the knackers. I imagine the size of his Equine of Moral Fortitude as he strolls through a second hand bookshop. Those depraved book-relinquishing fools! Ooo, bargain!

The thing is, the book that caught his attention in the pile was Carrie Fisher's Surrender the Pink. I bought it once because it had Carrie Fisher's name on it, and never read it. And, having stored it for far too many years, now know I will never read it. Also, it would look out of place in my newly-cleansed, image-appropriate sorting of books... But we can't possibly throw it away because, Ben argues, he might one day read it. What with him having always been into semi-autobiographical romance novels... Knowing him, of course, he probably will read it. Just to spite me.

Someone once told me it was crass to have a bookshelf in the lounge: it invites people to look through, to judge your poor purchases or to alternatively be in awe of your high-end tastes. I don't know if that's true. Maybe they just didn't have very good books.


  1. my exact sentiments sanna but i still won't throw my books out! maybe just a few so i can buy more ..........

  2. I'm one of the most compulsive book-hoarders that I know. Having said that, I use to get rid of some of the (largely inherited) books I no longer need, and trade them for volumes I'm more likely to enjoy. Or that will look good on the shelf.

  3. Hi Cecilia and NJJ! It's one of those traps we fall in to, knowing we're being hoarders but just unable to break free from old habits... That looks like a really great site - thanks for the link!