Why I and other book nerds think Marie Kondo is nuts

My actual bookshelves. Yes, I suppose they could use some tidying up.
My actual bookshelves. Yes, I suppose they could use some tidying up.

I’m not ashamed to count myself among the group of book nerds who disagree vehemently with Marie Kondo’s advice about books. In my review of The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up earlier this year, I noted my dismay that Kondo only owns thirty books, kept hidden away in a closet. That number seems obscenely small to those of us who find comfort in the written word. One Blogging For Books reviewer said he was happy to discard her book into the trash bin, “following her advice, I have an idea where to file this book.”

While it’s incomprehensible to us book lovers to pare our personal libraries down to a few dozen tomes stuffed in a closet, her most egregious request is that we reduce the books down to their essential ingredients by merely ripping out the pages that delight us the most. Ah yes, there’s nothing cozier than settling down on a rainy day to rifle through a folder of ripped out book pages to find something to read.

Before she gets down to ripping pages out, she walks us through her thought process. First, she decided to copy out the sentences that inspired her into a notebook. This, obviously, became too time consuming and was not sparking a lot of joy. Next, she attempts to use a copy machine, but this proves to be even more effort than manually copying out phrases. Finally, she channels her inner savage and decides to rip out the relevant pages and put them into a file folder. “This only took five minutes per book and I managed to get rid of forty books and keep the words that I liked. I was extremely pleased with the results,” Kondo writes. What the actual madness is this?! To think that I share the same planet with someone who thinks like this makes me a bit twitchy.

But I’m not alone. Anyone who loves books seems to be rubbed the wrong way by the advice that sounds absolutely bonkers to us. Summer Brennan is emphatic in her Literary Hub take-down of Kondo:

“What kind of degenerate only wants to own 30 books (or fewer) at a time on purpose? What sort of psychopath rips out pages from their favorite books and throws away the rest so they can, as Kondo puts it, “keep only the words they like?” For those of us for whom even the word “book” sparks joy, this constitutes a serious disconnect.”

In The Baffler, Chris Lehmann sums up his rage nicely, “I recommend that you, Marie Kondo, [bleep] right off.” He goes on to say that books function only as accessories for Kondo, ones that aren’t particularly nice to look at.

“Kondo downgrades books to mere lifestyle accessories, which will effectively spoil if not consumed promptly upon purchase, and are far better being cut up and moved primly out of view than being shared among friends.”

Perhaps the reason for the gaping disconnect between Kondo’s advice and a book nerd’s reality is that we appreciate books for more than just information retrieval. I shudder to imagine which forty books Kondo ripped pages from, but I can only assume they weren’t the best and the brightest volumes of philosophy, literature, history, or criticism. Kondo herself tells us that she saved Alice in Wonderland and The Art of Discarding from the discard pile, if that gives you an idea of her eclectic taste. The idea of lopping off pages from books must have come to her while reading Alice repeatedly since elementary school, where the Queen of Hearts is constantly demanding, “Off with their heads!” I tried not to mutter that very sentiment while re-reading Kondo’s advice about books when writing this.

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