She’s a bit dense

Marie Kondo’s going to have to elaborate… What does she mean by ‘joy’?

Her website says: “Keep only those things that speak to the heart, and discard items that no longer spark joy. Thank them for their service – then let them go.”

Surely there must be more to justify keeping objects than is summarised by the word ‘joy’. Memory? Provocation? Isn’t there more to value in our objects than joy? 

A case study: I hate lending books. While they’re away, or on holiday, I actually think about them. I miss them. I remember lending my friend Caitlin Moran’s How To Build A Girl, then pining for it in its absence. I even considered buying another copy. 

But another copy can never be the same.

I remember the time and place I bought the book, its price, where I read it and what I read afterwards, what I wrote in it and who I wrote it about. This is not as romantic as it sounds because She – the book – was bought for £1.50 from a Sue Ryder in Filey during the 2021 Christmas holidays, then read in a caravan in North Yorkshire.

Somehow it led me to read Lady Chatterley’s Lover (we needn’t interrogate this). I’d say Moran’s novel sparked joy, but it also made me cry like a child who has just dropped their sprinkle-dewed ice cream. 

Why didn’t I just buy another one during the 6 months we were apart? They’re £2 on Depop. I think this is because beyond containing the potential for my joy (with joy itself containing my grief and laughter), this specific version of the text contains the remembered event of reading it by torchlight under a duvet. It also contains the thoughts of that version of me in that exact time, exact place, and exact mindset. Slipping the book off the shelf, holding it in my hand and opening the page transports me to those momentary feelings, explaining why I drew a little heart next to “Johanna” (I was busy having a Suki Waterhouse phase). 

So when that book is gone from me, my ability to access that time and part of myself is diminished. It’s possible, but harder. It feels like a loss. Possibly I like to have the physical books with me simply because there’s so bloody many of them; there isn’t enough space on my shelf, never mind in my brain. 

But this doesn’t fully explain it. Initially, I thought that my book-attachment was because I’d externalised myself onto them, but, really, what the book and I contain is shared. Part of me (part, you see?) still believes that some of my mind is spread outside of my head on a charity shop paperback. I like the image. 

I also know that the things I have consumedreadthought are contained within me, and that my pastpresentfuture self is indivisible, inseparable, irreducible to five Forster novels, four Wilde plays and a YA novel by Caitlin Moran. But those texts have made an impression, a dint, squidging my plasticine brain to make room for more, just like when you are reading this, my expressions are impressing upon you – you could adopt them, or you could decide that they don’t fit in with you. 

As I read more, envelope more, the mandala of my brain gets busier, more patterned. 

I’m becoming more dense. 

Maybe that’s why I like a physical book. It’s easier to peer into the busy mess of myself with an actual paperback as a springboard. I remember one episode of ‘Top Gear’ (bear with me) where Jeremy Clarkson unsuccessfully explains to Richard Hammond that as you age, one year becomes a smaller proportion of your life, e.g. a year is 1/30th of your life at 30 and 1/50th at 50. So as I age, the media that once seemed such a large part of me will shrink, becoming a smaller shape in the pattern of myself. The busy, overall Me-ness will become more prominent than the media. 

I think that as She – my brain – continues to move through time, She could do with a physical grounding for those thoughts, until the thoughts have been built and stacked into corridors and rooms of flowing wonder. 

I’ve never lost a book. Elizabeth Bishop, in her poem ‘One Art’, uses the refrain “The art of losing isn’t hard to master.” The tone is desperate, trying to find peace with the abandonment of keys, lovers, families, cities, houses. As the poem progresses, she moves from talking about losing generally to talking of her personal loss, repeating ‘I’ statements, concluding that the loss “wasn’t a disaster”. This poem muddled me significantly. Although I can, I don’t want to lose my books and my loves. They’re there within, but while I’m still being built I’d like to keep them, see them, track my compounding density. 

So I’d like to keep my books, which no one, in fact, is trying to take away. Kondo describes the feeling of joy as “a little thrill, as if the cells in your body are slowly rising”, a definition I feel is not applicable to only what aphoristically “sparks joy”, but intrigue, attention… love. 

Joy, and myself, contain multitudes.

In conclusion, I will not be buying a Kindle. 

‘One Art’ by Elizabeth Bishop: