Bookish circles around the internet have been buzzing about the Marie Kondo video about tidying up your books, suggesting you identify the 30 books that give you joy, and dispose of the rest. There has been huge pushback among bibliophiles. One I know said “all my books give me joy!” Another said they had more than 30 books just on their nightstand. I think for some of us, a booklined wall (or walls) brings a feeling of safety. When I imagine a “safe place,” the first image that comes to mind is a book-lined library with a fireplace and rich and comfortable leather furniture.
At the same time many of us have far too much clutter in our lives. I’ve also recognized that a certain amount of de-accumulating of books is necessary at this stage of my life and I regularly donate, re-sell, and gift books, and still truly have more than I need–and they keep coming in!
As I’ve reflected on this idea of keeping books that give us joy, I have found that a corollary is giving books that give us joy, and that giving may even be a deeper source of joy than the books around us. It is interesting that we are encouraged to dispose of the books that don’t give us joy (although they may for someone else). Might a more meaningful gift be to share a book that has given us joy? In some cases, we may end up acquiring another copy, particularly if the book is one we want to revisit!
There was an article I read yesterday about physician burnout and how reading helps doctors replenish the emotional tank. We have a primary care doc who we really like, and, over the years, I’ve gotten a sense for the books he likes and I periodically bring one in when I have an appointment. Little did I realize that I might be helping avert burnout, but sharing joy may amount to the same thing.
I take for granted the ease with which I acquire books. Through interactions on this blog and on Facebook, I’ve discovered that this is not the case in many parts of the world, or even in some parts of our own society. This has led me to begin exploring various ways to respond including donations of theological books. One place I’ve found that accepts scholarly theological works published after 1980 is the Theological Book Network that has shipped books to 1400 schools in the global south.
Prisons are another place often in need of books. The American Library Association publishes a list of secular organizations that accept donations of books. Among Christian ministries, Christian Library International serves over 1,000 prison facilities in the US.
Of course, one of the simplest things we can do is ask the question as we read a book that we really like is to ask who else would like it. One of the delights in sharing books is that when our friend has read the book, we can talk about it, and it adds to the things we share in common.
Of course, there are a number of other ways to share books and bring joy to others. Joshua Becker at Becoming Minimalist has a great list of twenty places to donate books. He thinks of all the places I know of and many more. Often, it is simply a matter of collecting books in a box and hauling them to a nearby local location. Others provide help in preparing books for shipment.
What I’m proposing is that a joyful life is a giving life. As joy-giving as great books are, finding ways to share those books offers the chance to enhance that joy for ourselves and to bring joy, knowledge, diversion and all the things we love about our books to others. That, it seems to me, is the prize beyond book lined walls and tidy shelves.