The Books We’re Reading & Why We Need Them

bookstore bookshelfby Jenna Kalinsky.

Were you around for the fury that erupted after the lovely Marie Kondo dared say that she herself maintains a book collection of 30 books (which someone took to mean the rest of us should also aspire to a max of 30 books or else we’re gross hoarder people?) The firestorm of backlash (and, clearly, mixed metaphors- what can I say; I’m still upset) from book lovers far and wide took over the Internet.

While there was consensus that hoarding stuff is bad, books — while still being physical items — are in a category of spiritual, emotional, and intellectual currency that lies outside of items’ boundaries. Where the extra potato masher can go, the copies of books collected over a lifetime, cherished, and adored, whether we would read them again or not, would most definitely remain.

“We’re not after sparks of joy,” wrote Ron Charles at the Washington Post of his family’s book collection: “we want to swim in wonder.”

Indeed, while Kondo has a point when she says in her book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, “Let’s face it, in the end, you are going to read very few of your books again,” when it comes to books, reading them isn’t always the point.

Books Heal Us

Individually, books are frequently useful or delightful, but it is when books are displayed en masse that they really work wonders. Covering the walls of a room and exuding the breath of generations, they nourish the senses, slay boredom and relieve distress.

– The New York Times, “Why Do People Keep Books?

There are noted benefits to touching books; even smelling them gives many people enormous pleasure (which makes sense; books are a comfort and a joy, and smell is our strongest sense. Growing up with books means we will always have a sensorial attachment to them physically.

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spiral notebook with pen and writing

Books Nurture the Reader & Writer in Us All

Researchers have noted that books in the home invite children in particular to want to read, love literature, and even desire to write stories themselves.

Reading is not only fun, it’s good for you! It can help us to detox from social medialearn about others’ experiences, and build emotional intimacy with loved ones. It is also a great gift to give your children. Reading aloud is the number one way to jumpstart their cognitive development, and it’s a wonderful way to bond with kids of all ages.

– “A Christmas Even Tradition to Try This Year,” Monica Burke

Illustration of novels on shelf

In my article, “Giving Kids Books May Save the World: Here’s How,” I break down the cognitive reasons stories are valuable for children and foster empathy, broad-mindedness, diverse thinking, and comfort.

Adults too love the feeling of books in the home, whether the adult is a writer or a reader. My husband has several shelves of books in our house he knows he won’t read again. But he read them once, and now they’re like a part of him, the pieces that have made him into who he is. I’m not allowed to get rid of them (though I’ve tried to lose the beer-making guide more than a few times but he seems to have a radar for that thing), so they’re part of our home as sure as the walls or floor.

Books Are Beautiful

While some books are indeed works of art- coffee table books or hand-bound books by small imprint publishers (or this tiny tome of Desiderata, given to me by my dear friend Steph), others are in the eye of the beholder. Like our feelings of happiness when we sniff the pages of a book, looking at certain books and enjoying the cover art, or the fact that they’re leather bound, or that they’re quite old is a satisfying visual experience at the outside (then there are those people who arrange their shelves according to color, but we won’t talk about them).

poetry book Desiderata

Books Give Us Hope

There is a word in Japanese that does not exist in English: tsundoku. It means the enjoyment of bringing books into your life regardless of whether you intend to read them.

When I look at my shelf, all I can see is all the holidays, some summer days, and my retirement, and it looks beautiful. All that possibility, so much potential. I inspire myself to keep going through work, parenting, and the long slog of days when I look at the books sitting on my wall, patiently waiting for me.

The holidays are one such time of reprieve from the busyness of life when I and many of my literary colleagues know how we will use that slower pace and (fingers crossed) cushion of time.

Books Restore a Person from the Inside

For those of us for whom books are one of the chief currencies of life, having extra time to read is gold. This holiday season, with Omicron on the rise, our One Lit Place Writers and Creative Team have shared the books we’re all looking forward to curling up with and reading:

three women holding books

woman in glasses reading from a book

woman holding stack of books in front of bookshelfNext, I will return to Esi Edugyan’s Washington Black, then tuck into my friend Antanas Sileika’s Provisionally Yours. I’d also like to plow through this stack of The New Yorkers (wish me luck!) and take time to remind myself why I am a better writer, reader, and human being by re-reading Slouching Towards Bethlehem and A Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion.

This year has been a roller coaster of challenges, but what has remained constant and true is books. Seeing them there, blinking at me from every room, makes me know I’m surrounded by the greats, by ideas, by laughter and insight, and in that, by all the potential of the world.

Wishing you and yours (and your books) a very joyous holiday season filled with great reading,

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