Saturday 12 January 2019

Books, too many

Just finished the first week of the second term of my penultimate year teaching at The Institute. I've been wishing all my student groups Happy New Year and reflecting on the brief window between Epiphany and Groundhog Day when you can say, and believe, This 2019, it's going to a transformative, wonderful year. After a month, the evidence will suggest that 2019 will be much the same as 2018, 2009, 1979.  Nevertheless, it's not a bad time to do some de-cluttering: the evenings are dark and outdoor work is paused.

M'pal P in Massachusetts sent me a Grauniad link on books and decluttering, which I read with interest and skepticism because a lot of my literate friends-and-relations believe in books exceptionalism . . . that books are possessions which should be privileged over a welsh dresser filled with plates and cups or a garden shed well-hung with tools. Me being me, the new year also triggers reflections on The End of Days and remembering the list of civil war melt-down essentials. How many of my books would be useful during or after a zombie apocalyse? Here's the Konmari gorn-viral decluttering method: I don't know how to fold my dinner plates in thirds so they stand upright but I guess that will be in a later lesson. I really could do a job on the clothes because I have drawers full of T-shirts because they are often given away for free . . . but I never wear T-shirts. And the books! It's ridiculous:
Here's the N wall of our living room which faces me as I sit, slack-jawed, on my sofa waiting to be inspired for The Blob. A wall 200mm thick of paper serves as effective thermal insulation. But the only unique material on the shelves is 120mm-linear of The Blob. The author of the Grauniad article, who is an author, objects to Konmari's super simple criterion for keeping a book: that it brings joy. No! reading is about more than tra la la, it's about being challenged, informed and stimulated. Well I'm sure that's correct in principle but with so much choice in books and so little time for reading, how many of us choose to have our cosiness challenged? How many pay folding money to buy the writings of people from the other side of any political / philosophical divide which engages us?

" . . . a golden rule that will fit everybody, this is it: Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful". That William Morris! Books may be attractive [publishers employ marketeers and designers] but a modern paperback is rarely beautiful. Nor is it strictly utilitarian - my dictionaries are rarely opened because of on-line alternatives. We have yards of cook-books but I only use a handful and only a handful of recipes from each one. And I'll tell you a really annoying thing about paper-page books: they are really hard to search. My review of the John Tyndall biography is much shorter <phew!> than it might be, because I was unable to retrieve half the notable anecdotes in his life. That would be no problem with the Kindle version. Both Dau.I and P shared this wonderful appropriate tech multi-volume research aid [R - source]. I've brought my kindle back to life after losing the charger for several years: It's really much more efficient to store text electronically. I think I could go through my roughly category-sorted library and remove every third book for re-circulation: it would be years before I'd notice the loss.

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