Books to keep or not keep
Some of my books stacked in read, to read, find somewhere to put away and overflow piles.

Since I read Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying, I keep falling over intense, library voice (whispered) bookish debates about whether to keep or not keep books.

More often than not, the argument centres on not keeping, and Ms Kondo’s insistence on only keeping those that “spark joy.”

Can/does a book “spark joy”?

Well, I guess that depends on what you think joy is.

For me, that’s a BIG yes

I’m a writer. And I’m a reader. And I’m a book lover. If it’s a good book, I will read instead of sleep. If the fate of the world depended on me reading books, you could rest easy knowing the planet would be safe in my book reading hands.

I have lots of books. They’re in bookshelves, stacked on cupboards and the floor. Almost every room in the house has at least one book. Up until one unfortunate incident, I kept some in the toilet too.

I have so many books I’ve given up trying to catalogue or track them. I don’t even bother putting bookplates or name and address labels or in them anymore. You could probably steal half of them and I probably wouldn’t notice for decades.

Plus I have a large spider web between my bookshelf and my reading lamp. I’m not sure where the spider is because the web is above my head height and doesn’t get in my way. Clever spider!

Definitions of joy

Kondo explains it as feeling a sort of upward lightness in your body, in opposition to an unjoyful downward heaviness. Which is why she encourages you to touch or hug the objects you’re considering. Sort of engaging your heart over your head.

The Oxford English Dictionaries define joy as:

  • A feeling of great pleasure and happiness, or
  • Success or satisfaction, or
  • Lively and cheerful.

Developing an understanding of joy

Though it’s a little funny/sad that we need someone to explain to us what joy is/feels like.

Kondo suggests you can develop your joy detector by picking your top three things from a pile of things. You can probably find heaps of other answers on Google.

Anyway, these are all feelings I’ve felt when holding, looking at and reading some books.

The joy of books

I have one book, The Business of Being A Woman, by Ida M Tarbell (published by The MacMillan Company, New York in 1916), that I can’t read past p. 25 because I disagree so violently with the content (women getting the vote ruined everything. At least I think that’s what it’s about). But I keep it because it was printed in the days when you had to cut a book’s pages open to read them. And I love that about it.

But were it in a different format, it would be long gone.

The unjoy of books

There are other books that aren’t my taste. Whether that’s the subject, the writing style or a cover that gives me the creeps. They are more properly described as taking than giving joy, and if I chose not to keep them, well it would free up space to welcome new joy giving books in.

And remember, we’re choosing what to keep. Keeping something because we’re used to it being there is not a good reason – there’d be no divorce otherwise!


According to Jonathan Crow, tsundoku is a Japanese word that essentially means reading pile.

Much of the keep or not keep debate centres on Kondo’s suggestion that if you haven’t read it by now, you’re never going to, so you might as well not keep it. Perhaps give it to someone who will read it.

Which is another way of suggesting you should stop being a dog in a manger about them.

And which will be so incredibly easy for people who don’t love books that they’ll wonder why they didn’t do it before.

But I love books. They’re part decoration, part furniture, part memory bank, part knowledge trust, best friends, time wasters, and so on. DB slots his unwanted books in with mine and thinks I don’t notice. And it took me about three decades to return one I borrowed from my brother. And I really wish I hadn’t. He caught me in a weak moment.

Books are like movies, you have to be in the right mood for them, and that’s what makes it so hard to not keep them. In fact, I’ve thrown books out and had to go buy them again.

And while I will probably read most of them, there are some I know in my heart I’m never going to read. The attractive cover isn’t related to the subject. Or the cover copy is better than the story (wish I could do that).

Why should I keep them and torture myself with that failure of judgement?


In the end, whether you keep or not keep, is up to you.

Keep the books that make you happy, get rid of those that don’t.

And there’s no need to feel bad about not keeping them.

Poor traditionally published books have such a short shelf life that you have to buy them when you see them or you will miss out. That means it’s highly likely someone somewhere will be looking for them.

If it’s not me, it will be someone like me.


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