There are numbers that are just too small to make sense. Like one potato chip. Or a two-day PBS pledge drive.
Or 30 books.
That’s the number that’s been quoted and misquoted all over the internet for the past few days, to varying degrees of amusement and horror. It’s tied to the organizational expert Marie Kondo of “Tidying Up,” who supposedly said that in straightening up your life, one should “Ideally, keep less than 30 books.”
Now, as it turns out, that started with the Rev. Jeremy Smith, a practitioner of Kondo’s method who was joking about his own tendency to accumulate books. It’s also something of a personal goal for Kondo herself, who mentioned in “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” that she keeps her collection down to about 30 books at any given time, though she never made that a formal requirement.
But it was too late. By the time, it hit the internet and became a meme, the damage was done.
“She means per shelf, right?”
“Maybe per nightstand?”
While it’s a dismaying comment on our ability to fact-check (and yeah, I was sucked in for a while, too), it also says something very uplifting about our attachment to the written word.
I myself am one of the long-time practitioners of tsundoku, and no, that doesn’t mean I spend all my time with number puzzles. “Tsundoku” is a Japanese pun that refers to the huge pile of volumes you’re going to read some day, honest. This usually isn’t from lack of desire – most creators of these literary mountain ranges are huge readers – but from the tendency to see a cover and think “Ooh! That looks cool!”
Presto! Three books in for every one book finished.
I started reading when I was about two and a half years old. One could argue that I’ve never really stopped. Between my collection and Heather’s, we now have … well, more than 30. If the Longmont Public Library decides it needs to open a north Longmont branch, we’re ready.
And despite my own speedy reading pace, yes, there are unread books on my shelves at any given time. Maybe on yours, too. And that’s OK.
Books have an inertia, a tendency to stay. New books are the potential of discovery, the chance to hear a new voice, encounter a new story, discover a new experience or a new facet of a seemingly-familiar one. Old books are the old friends that come back to visit every so often, whether it’s “I have to re-read this every year or so” or “I want to go back to my favorite scene, just one more time.”
But of course, there’s only so much time. No one can do everything, see everything, or (unthinkable as it may seem) read everything.
I’ll speak some heresy for a moment – it is OK to let some of that everything go. Everyone has that decision that seemed like a good idea at the time and now just hangs there. If someone else can get more joy from it than you can, let it go with a blessing. (If no one can get joy from it, let it go with high velocity.)
But it’s also OK to hang on to those dreams, literary or otherwise. Even if you can’t quite reach the unreachable star.
“Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?” Robert Browning once wrote. If there’s always a dream to chase, a book to open, a discovery you haven’t made yet, that’s exciting. After all, if everything could be accomplished, how dull would the remaining life ahead be?
To paraphrase Kondo herself, if that chance of discovery, of serendipity, brings you joy, hang on to it. Tightly. (And hopefully with adequate shelving space.)
You may just have a pleasant hour ahead of you.
Or even 30.