With the release of her Netflix series, bestselling author and tidying guru Marie Kondo has been able to share her bold decluttering philosophy with a vast new audience. While her popularity has grown as a result, Kondo has been the focal point of a storm of not altogether receptive comments on social media, especially among book-lovers reacting to her “keep no more than 30 books” policy. The running joke goes something like: “Keep no more that 30 books…on your nightstand” or “Keep no more than 30 books…on the back of the toilet.” I think any bibliophile can relate!
Being a minimalist, I actually like much about Marie Kondo’s tidying methodology. My son introduced me to her book several years ago, and we purged some 30 bags of clothes and household items—and 22 bags of books. But I still have twice that many still on the shelves of my library – and I’ve added quite a few more since then. The idea of only having thirty books is a bit horrifying, and frankly not something that’s going to happen anytime soon. But still, I found it a useful thought exercise. If I could only have 30 books, what would they be?’
There are a few fiction books, like Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s The Shadow of the Wind or Laurence Cossé’s A Novel Bookstore that I love and have read several times. (Blog# 4: Books About Books) I say I can’t imagine not owning them, but truthfully, if I knew I could always get them at the library, I would probably be able to part with them. It would be a little harder to part with writing books that I use as reference materials. I want to be able to make notes in them and have them handy.
Nostalgia also clearly compels my choices. I have books from my childhood that would be nearly impossible to part with, especially my copy of The Little Rabbit Who Wanted Red Wings (Carolyn Sherwin Bailey,) given to me by my great-aunt in 1961. I also have a number of books that I used to read to my sons, with Goodnight Moon (Margaret Wise Brown) at the top of this list, which would also need to stay. (Blog #10 Child’s Play)
But as I travel deeper into this mental exercise, I realize it is the books that offer me inspiration that would be the hardest to not have in my possession. I want these books nearby, to pick up, open at random, and feel stirred. Several I’ve talked about before: Rumi, Rilke, and Mary Oliver all speak to my heart and soul and lift me up. (Blog# 16: Poetic Flair) Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic and Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way are where I turn when I’m needing creative inspiration. They are the best medicine for my darker moments of fear, self-doubt and writer’s block. (Blog# 13: Books as Teachers)
Other books feel a bit like a child’s “blankie,” offering comfort and validation. Susan Cain’s book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking would make this list. After a lifetime of feeling different, less than, and exhausted, I want the support that it offers forever on my bookshelf!
Wayne Muller’s books, especially How Then Shall We Live? Four Simple Questions That Reveal the Beauty and Meaning of Our Lives, would also make the cut. His compassion and sensitivity speak to the psychotherapist in me, naming all that I believe is vital and important about trauma, pain, and the healing process. This book is full of highlights and tabbed pages!
Finally, the newest book on my “must have” list is Donna Cameron’s A Year of Living Kindly. In a time when disconnection seems to abound and kindness often feels lacking, Cameron makes a compelling case for kindness as a path toward significant change in our lives. She offers practical suggestions for creating a kinder world in short chapters with wonderful inspirational quotes, research and wisdom. I love taking this book a chapter a week, savoring it and endeavoring to put her ideas into practice.
So, what about you – what would make your list if you could only have 30 books?