To Declutter or Not to Declutter

If you haven’t heard about Marie Kondo you can’t possibly have been paying attention. The Japanese guru of organization is turning up everywhere. Her motto of ‘Tidy your space; transform your life’ by following six basic rules of tidying, is pushing even the most skeptical of us into evaluating our clutter.

(Ideally the fan and television should disappear, but there’s a closet nearby that’s in much greater need of attention.)

We’re told to sort through our belongings (in a specific order, I must add), scrutinize each item, decide if it brings us joy and, if it doesn’t, thank it for its service before tossing it.

Does that make you nod your head in enlightened agreement, hurl ridicule, or laugh uneasily?

The loudest response I’ve heard is from the reading and writing community. Latching onto Kondo’s suggestion that she keeps her collection of books pared down to thirty, sparked disbelief and rebellion at the idea of parting with any of our precious volumes.

“You can never have too many books” says a mime that circulates on social media. And Melissa Breyer, in an article for Treehugger entitled In case of rapturous decluttering, don’t throw away your books, says, “Should you get bitten by the Kondo bug, go gently with your book collection.”

“…a book collection in its entirety, nurtured over a lifetime of reading, can in itself be considered a thing of joy … and once it’s gone, it can not be replaced. Go ahead and alphabetize by author, dust the covers, and straighten the spines – but if you keep just one thing in your decluttering frenzy, consider keeping the books.”

Even Tsundoku – the practice of buying more books than we can read, thus creating our infamous TBR piles – has a positive spinoff in Breyer’s article. “That a book is unread should not be an indication of its uselessness, rather, a promise of its potential. It’s like having a gift to open or a vacation to look forward to.” Believe me, I have a lot of gifts waiting to be opened!

(This is just one of our bookcases — the one reserved for my writing craft books and my TBR ones.)

The phenomenon of de-cluttering isn’t new. I don’t think anyone admits to liking clutter. Certainly, I don’t. Author Sherri Shackelford said in a Facebook post yesterday, “I understand organizing isn’t for everyone. Some people work better in chaos.” I don’t. I get stalled amid clutter because it spills over into my mind and my creativity grinds to a halt.

For me, the challenge was to identify what constituted clutter and then figure out how to deal with it. Marie Kondo says it’s necessary to first visualize your ideal lifestyle. That’s always been a problem, too. What’s ideal and what’s realistic and how can the two be made compatible, especially in a household with four children, several dogs, and no budget for decorating?

To start with, I didn’t know one style from another. I knew I wanted our home to be a sanctuary, a place of serenity in which to retreat when the pressures of trying to survive as an introvert in an extrovert’s world got to be a bit much. Minimalism was the only thing I thought could achieve that goal, and the starkness of its décor didn’t appeal to me. I like my creature comforts.

It took me almost fifty years of marriage before I began to understand that regardless of style, what made our homes comfortable for me was being surrounded by things I love, just not too many of them at any one time – essentially what Marie Kondo advocates.

Next to being surrounded by my family and dogs, the things I love involve clear countertops, serene colours of the beach and woodland, specific pieces of art and pottery…and books. Lots of books. I’ve rationalized that doesn’t conflict with Marie’s idea, because all those books bring me joy. So, beyond a bit of reorganizing and dusting, I won’t be tidying my bookshelves. I’ll take my decluttering in other areas.

In fact, our bedroom closet is next in line for some attention. I can think of several items in it that don’t bring me joy at all. It’s hard to love pieces that need repair or no longer fit.

After that? Hmmm, not sure yet…just don’t ask about our basement!

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So Many Books, So Little Time!

I’m sharing an article from the archives today, updated from its original posting in 2008.

But FIRST… I have to share my daughter’s exciting news! Her first publishing contract! Head over to Shari’s blog and read about it, then come back here to continue. 🙂

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“So many books, so little time.”  If you Google this phrase you’ll come up with about 563,000,000 results — everything from a link to the quote attributed to Frank Zappa, to Sara Nelson’s book documenting a year of her passionate reading, assorted articles on the subject, even a forum of the same name on the Indigo/Chapters site debating about what ten books you might take if you knew you were going to be stranded on a desert island.

Summer Reading GraphicFor me, the words stand alone, not as a title for anything. They emerge from my mouth sounding more like a moan, even a wail, expressing my frustration that there are more books that I want to read than there are hours left in my life. (And I’m planning for a lot of those!)

Selecting what to read — what’s worthy of my time — is always a dilemma. So I could relate to a  blog entry written some years ago by literary agent Jessica Faust.  Here’s an excerpt:

“I somehow had the impression that as a recent college grad, or just an intelligent woman, I should be reading more intelligent books (whatever that means). In other words, I should be catching up on the classics I missed out on as a journalism major or reading only books that incited great philosophical discussions… It took me a long time to accept and advertise the fact that I was a commercial fiction girl… I think all readers evolve and grow over time and eventually find their niche. I hear often from those who read only fantasy as young people and now have grown to read different kinds of fiction, and I hear from others who still can’t stomach commercial fiction but love nothing more than to cuddle into a long classic. Some typically enjoy longer literary works, but when life is tough or getting them down, they will pull out a favorite romance or thriller. What we read and when we’re reading it can say a lot about who we are in that time of our life, just like the music we listen to and the movies we watch.”

I wonder what my reading choices say about me. I’m definitely not scholarly. Today’s post is a re-run from my archives, but at the time it was first posted, my virtual coffee table held the following: Fiction — “Leota’s Garden” by Francine Rivers, “Carlyle’s House” by Virginia Woolf, “Light on Snow” by Anita Shreve and Kirsty Scott’s “Between You & Me”. Non-fiction: Julia Cameron’s “The Sound of Paper”, Des Kennedy’s “Crazy About Gardening”, and John Fischer’s “Be Thou My Vision” (daily meditation).

Reading vies with writing for possession of my time. No matter how much I spend on either, it’s never enough! I need to live to be 120!

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QUESTIONS FOR YOU:

  • Are your reading choices eclectic, or do you have favourite authors or themes that govern what you read?
  • Are your summer book choices lighter reading than what you choose during the rest of the year?
  • What’s on your coffee table (or bedside table) right now?
  • What’s on your summer reading list … anything you’d like to recommend?

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Ice

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“A book must be an ice-axe to break the seas frozen inside our soul.”

[Franz Kafka]


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“People grow old only by deserting their ideals,” Macarthur had written. “Years may wrinkle the skin, but to give up interest wrinkles the soul. You are as young as your faith, as old as your doubt; as young as your self-confidence, as old as your fear; as young as your hope, as old as your despair. In the central place of every heart there is a recording chamber. So long as it receives messages of beauty, hope, cheer and courage, so long are you young. When your heart is covered with the snows of pessimism and the ice of cynicism, then, and then only, are you grown old. And then, indeed as the ballad says, you just fade away.”

[Douglas MacArthur]

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What makes a good book stand out?

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Peach sunset colours fade to soft rose and lavender over a somber sea. “The heavens declare the glory of God.”  Gulls screech and dance in the stiff onshore breeze while a lone eagle disappears in the distance.

I scuff through the sand and stones, always hopeful that I’ll discover a bit of sea glass. My daughter lives near here and has gathered a multi-hued collection. I’ve yet to find any.  But along the beach occasional shells stand out, white against the blue-grey stones.

On the outside oyster shells are a chalky unimpressive white. Inside they’re smooth and satiny, sometimes quite pearlescent. On rare occasions they might even contain a pearl. A treasure.

You know there’s an analogy coming, right?

Like the miles of beach stones and sand, there are millions of mediocre books on the market. What does it take to make one stand out? Some might suggest a great cover, but, while that would get me to pick it up, I’ll still turn it over to check for other things before deciding to keep it. I’ll be looking for something special inside, hoping to find a real treasure… a wonderful story written with passion about unique characters.

What are your requirements when you go looking for a new book? What makes a book stand out for you?

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The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
[Psalm 19:1 NIV]

Books as Wall Art?

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One of the bloggers I encountered during my ‘Freshly Pressedadventure is very crafty. In checking out her blog, Almost Never Clever, I discovered her living room wall art project – a framed collage of sections taken from used books.

This involved cutting apart dozens of books, something that normally would make readers and writers cringe. It’s akin to writing in the margins, highlighting and underlining. Some of us do that with wanton abandon; others can’t bring themselves to the desecration.

I have a musical friend who framed old sheets of music for her music room wall and I thought she was a genius. But dissembling books is so permanent. I’m not sure if I could do it. On one hand, the art focuses attention on beloved pieces of literature, features favourite passages. On the other, it’s destructive… almost seems cannibalistic to one who views her books as old friends.

What do you think? My question isn’t intended to direct criticism at the artist because art is always a personal expression of creativity. I’m just wondering if such a project would appeal to you. Is it something you could do without hesitation?

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One Writer’s Admission and a Giveaway

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Fifty-three. That’s how many books I have on a particular shelf in my office, and that doesn’t include reference books or any borrowed from the library. All of them tell me how to write a novel. I counted them because I thought it would bolster my confidence. After all, if I’ve read that many books about writing, surely I must know something about how to write. Right?

Then again, the more how-to books I read, the closer I edge to the precipice of information overload. I don’t like to admit the truth, but here it is: the more I read, the harder it is to remember what I’ve read, and that’s frustrating.

But this week I discovered an excellent check list on Rachelle Gardner’s blog — in fact, not one, but two extensive lists about what “an editor looks for when reading a manuscript.” The perfect refresher course for my foggy brain. On Monday her post was all about characters. On Tuesday the topic was the story itself.

I can’t begin to reproduce all the information, but please consider clicking over to read Rachelle’s posts for yourself. You shouldn’t miss them.

Then come back here and tell me which point you found the most valuable. From the comments left here between now and 11:59 p.m. (Pacific time) Thursday I’ll choose one person at random to receive their choice of one of the following books… ‘oldies but goodies’ that are either duplicates or I’ve read more than once and am finally willing to part with to make room on the shelves for new purchases. (What? You didn’t think I was going to stop reading, did you?)

Negotiating With the Dead: a Writer on Writing (Margaret Atwood) 2002

The Maeve Binchy Writers’ Club (Maeve Binchy) 2008

The Writing Life (Annie Dillard) 1989

Thunder and Lightning (Natalie Goldberg) 2000

Writing Historical Fiction (Rhona Martin) 1988

So, what are you waiting for? Go click on the links to Rachelle’s posts, then come back here and tell me which point you found the most helpful.

I’ll announce the winner Friday morning.

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Supporting Debut Authors

I remember a year-end post on Rachelle Gardner’s blog two years ago, where she listed “ten really good first novels”. It was an impressive list of publicly acclaimed books and I was shocked to learn they were all first novels for their authors.

  1. Gone With the Wind, Margaret Mitchell
  2. The Kite Runner, Khaled Hosseini
  3. To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
  4. The Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger
  5. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Mark Haddon
  6. The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway
  7. Peace Like a River, Leif Enger
  8. The Time Traveler’s Wife, Audrey Niffenegger
  9. The Secret Life of Bees, Sue Monk Kidd
  10. Catch-22, Joseph Heller

You won’t find too many books by debut authors on my shelves. I’m a cautious reader and tend to wait for recommendations from others before spending my money. On the other hand, if I see a title that appeals to me I rarely stop to check if it’s a first book or a fifteenth. So I was surprised to realize several books that I’ve enjoyed lately are from debut authors:

  1. Crossing Oceans, Gina Holmes
  2. Dead Witness, Joylene Butler
  3. Code Blue, Richard L. Mabry
  4. Losing Faith, Denise Jaden
  5. Bad Latitude, Dave Ebright
  6. The Secret Year, Jennifer Hubbard
  7. The Preacher’s Bride, Jody Hedlund
  8. The Forest for the Trees, Betsy Lerner
  9. Bitter, Sweet, Laura Best

What’s also interesting to me is that all of them except one I learned about because of a blogging connection with the author. Who says blogging doesn’t sell books?

What have you read lately by a debut author? What brought it to your attention?

Bloggers’ Library Loving Challenge

Jennifer Hubbard is doing it again. Last year she decided to participate in a bloggers’ challenge to benefit local libraries. It was so successful that she’s inviting everyone to get involved in another one.

This year’s Bloggers’ Library Loving Challenge is this week, from March 23-27. The idea is to open a post on your blog, pledge so much per comment received and then donate the funds to your local library or other literary organization of your choice. If you skip over to Jenn’s blog today and let her know you’re going to take part she’ll include your blog’s URL on her blog roll to encourage lots of visitors. While I’m not taking part this time, I urge you to either make your own pledge and support your local library or visit the participating blogs to comment and help those bloggers raise their funds. It’s a great idea. Libraries everywhere always need money.

Palin Book Look-a-likes

Yesterday Publishers Lunch reported on two books with fascinating similarities that will be released on the same day.

Palin1
Palin2

“OR Books is issuing GOING ROUGE: Sarah Palin, An American Nightmare on November 17, the same day when HarperCollins publishes GOING ROGUE: An American Life by Sarah Palin.” Check out their explanation as to how this can happen without legal ramifications.

Books, Books… I Need More Books (like a hole in the head)

After yesterday’s post you’d think I would be embarrassed to admit this. I really should have known better than to stop at the library today but I couldn’t help myself. I borrowed eight books!!! Now you have to remember that I have a TBR pile on my office bookshelf that is already at a precarious height. One carelessly placed volume and I’m in danger of being buried in an avalanche of verbiage.

 

But the library is an addictive environment. All those orphaned books dangle provocatively in front me, just begging to be taken home even if only for a few weeks of my attention and TLC.

 

My tantalizing new pile includes “Turtle Valley” (Gail Anderson-Dargatz, 2007), “Moral Disorder” (Barbara Atwood, 2006), “Evan Blessed” (Rhys Bowen, 2005). “Nails” (Peter Bowen, 2006), “Ireland” (Frank Delaney, 2005), two of Barbara Delinsky’s older stories, “Heart of the Night” (1989) and “More Than Friends” (1993), and one of C.J. Box that I’ve read before but want to read again, “Free Fire” (2007). My excuse for this fiction indulgence is an upcoming trip… there is no better way than reading to banish the boredom of travel time, especially on the BC ferries.

 

Now, which one shall I read first? Oh, I know I’m a week away from the trip but no sense leaving these poor titles to fend for themselves against the jealousy of the nearby TBR pile! You never know what animosity might develop between them in a week. How would I ever explain tattered covers and ripped pages to the librarian? No, better to keep them all off balance, returning at unexpected moments to wag a warning finger at them as I withdraw another new title.

 

Like dust bunnies under beds, I’m convinced that books live a life of their own whenever the office door closes . You know, like the toys in “Toy Story”? You have to keep an eye on them, and the best way is to unexpectedly pop in at random times to  check out a blurb or exchange titles. It keeps them wondering who’s next.

 

I do plan to do a little writing on the side, of course! That’s what all this reading is about — priming my creativity, right?