A plea to keep the old books

Why minimalism shouldn’t challenge the notion of keeping your bookshelf full

Minimalism is the latest trend sweeping us by storm. There are documentaries, podcasts and books all about the art of decluttering. For the most part, I wholeheartedly agree with the minimalist agenda. We live in a society in which our worth is based on what we own. We are constantly being pushed to consume and buy things that we absolutely do not need. So, any trend that challenges this perniciousness is one that I can get behind.

However, one thing that I will never minimize is the number of books I own. If I haven’t worn an article of clothing in the past six months, I will happily get rid of it. However, I won’t do the same with a book, even if it’s been six years since I last touched it. I am not deterred by the space they take up or the dust they collect. I see this as a small price to pay for all that they provide.

Recently, Marie Kondo, a Japanese organising consultant and author, released her Netflix special, Tidying Up with Marie Kondo, and it took the internet by storm. Kondo inspired many to get rid of of anything that doesn’t spark joy. However, she received criticism after a rumour circulated that she believed in keeping only 30 books. Kondo has since dismissed these rumours, but this nevertheless got me thinking about the benefits of holding onto old books.

The books that line my bookshelf are more than a bunch of ink-blotted pages held together by glue. They are sources of boundless knowledge and adventure. They don’t go out of style or lose their value. Hence, I do not treat them as single use objects. I keep books that I loved, hated, and never finished and I encourage you to do the same.

Aside from that, I have other, more concrete reasons, as to why I keep all my books. Firstly, I firmly believe that you cannot claim to love a book until you have read it multiple times. It’s impossible to grasp every element of a book after just one reading. However, once you’ve revisited it a few times, you begin to understand the complexity and the multitude of nuances every literary work offers.

I also keep the books that I didn’t like or never finished. Not to sound like an insufferable hippy, but I believe that sometimes the reason for not liking a book is less a content problem and more so a problem of time. There are certain books that will appeal to you less depending on where you are in your life. So, the reason you “hated” a book could be because you read it at the wrong time.

This has proven to be true multiple times with books that I have revisited. When I first tried to read Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, I had a hard time grappling with the heart-breaking stories that were being told and was never able to finish it. At the time, I was too immature to understand the plight of the women in this book. However, when I returned to it a few years later, I was able to appreciate all it had to offer.

Thus, I will hold on to Virginia Woolf’s To The Lighthouse, no matter how much I claim to despise it, so that I can reread it at a later point in my life. Maybe by then, Woolf’s stream of consciousness technique might actually stir joy inside of me instead of irrational rage.

I know that there is the possibility that I may never return to the books I so vehemently hold on to. It is possible that I will never do anything more than dust or rearrange them, but this doesn’t change my stance. I’d rather have the opportunities that keeping old books provides than the peace of mind minimalism claims to produce.

Graphic by Ana Bilokin

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