Lifelong readers like you and me need books. We need windows into other people’s minds, alternate worldviews, and alternate worlds. We need books because they teach us things, lead our minds in new directions, and provide a delicious sense of escape.
We need books, yet it’s not always easy to fit reading into our routines. So I was excited to receive your book solutions for reaching reading goals. Ross noted that randomly choosing books was leading him to disappointment, so now he finds good reads by choosing book club selections, award winners, and works featured in local author presentations. Anne shared that she keeps a record of books she reads using both Excel and Pinterest. Vickie wrote, “I need a headboard that doubles as a book cabinet, . . . as the stacks of books on my nightstands get out of control!”
That last tip—to acquire more bedroom shelving—brings up an interesting question. We need books nearby so we can notice their presence and read them. The bedroom is a convenient place for that purpose. We also want to display books elsewhere around our homes. However, many book lovers find that their collection of books gets way too big all too easily.
How Many Physical Books Does One Need?
Marie Kondo—organizing consultant, author, and Netflix star—recently found herself in the center of a controversy about how many books one should own. Fortunately, public perceptions that she wants everyone to limit their collections to 30 books, or keep only light and fluffy books, are unfounded. Her method for tidying up, called KonMari, emphasizes the benefits of keeping things that “spark joy” and throwing away things that don’t.
This seems like a great method of weeding out books from your collection and donating or selling them—or throwing them away if no one else will take them. If you own books that you mean to read one day, but they aren’t sparking joy . . . are you really going to read them? If you own books that could serve a practical purpose one day, but aren’t sparking joy . . . are you really going to open them up at some future moment of need, as opposed to searching the Internet or finding a different book to acquire the information?
I used to hold onto every book I’d ever bought. This worked fine for a while, but as the years passed, and the books accumulated, and I acquired more and more shelves, my home started to feel cluttered. Rooms started to feel uncomfortable for habitation. But my unease did not spur me to action. What finally got me going was an impending move across the country.
Putting my anxieties aside—fears about losing something that might be useful one day—I did it. I culled the herd. I got rid of half of my books, so I wouldn’t have to box them up and move them. This turned out to be a wonderful decision. Upon placing the books I had decided to keep on the shelves in my new home, the new bookshelves did spark joy: the books I kept were the ones I truly valued and loved.
Better yet, I did not miss the books I threw away. I could never even remember which ones they were, once they had passed out of my possession.
Okay, But Let’s Have a Count. Give Us a Number!
Leo Tolstoy once wrote a story about how much land a person needs, in the end answering the question ironically. Ironically speaking, then, you don’t need any books!
A less jokey and more straightforward answer is that I personally own 509 books. I just counted them. That doesn’t include some old phone books I found in a drawer. Seeing those did not spark any hint of joy. I’ve been keeping them in case of an apocalypse that somehow knocks out the Internet, but not the phone lines—but not so much of an apocalypse that businesses actually close. (How’s that for logic?)
The best answer to the question, however, is that you need as many books as you feel that you need. The important fact to remember is that you are in charge of your stuff, not the other way around. If the stuff starts to overwhelm you, get rid of it. If the stuff makes you happy and fulfilled, keep it close by, display it for houseguests as desired, and look at (or use) it often.
Liza Achilles is a writer and Silent Book Club organizer in Rockville, Maryland. She blogs about seeking wisdom through books and elsewhere at lizaachilles.com.