The Thirty Book Rule

By | 25/01/2019

Marie Kondo’s rule that you should only keep thirty books, that you should only keep those that you personally want to read or enjoy is a silly rule because it encourages people to limit their scope and perspective on the world.

People studying at the British Library with a small selection of books behind them
People studying at the British Library with a small selection of books behind them

Childhood

One memory of my childhood is being surrounded by books and being able to look through hundreds of books, whether at home, in libraries or even mail order catalogues. As a child I loved the opportunities that books represented. One of my favourite shops in London is Waterstone’s near Piccadilly Circus. I loved browsing the current affairs sections, the documentary film section and others. I often wanted to buy entire sections but I had to limit myself to what I thought I would read.

I bought books and only read a few chapters. Books are not like bread or shoes. They don’t have a best before date and they don’t have to be used every day.

Learning opportunities

A home or house benefits from having a wide selection of books because life is not linear. We want to learn about multiple topics at once. One day we want to read about the Vietnam war and the next day we want to read about climbing the Eiger. On the third day we want to read about the history of The Written World.

Such a book charts the history of writing from oral traditions of storytelling to cuneiforms, the library of Alexandria, the role of literature in the forming of national identities and cultures but also about what an important role the development of paper had.

When you needed to breed sheep to make parchment the process would take months or even years. With the development of paper the process was cheaper. It took time for paper to be cheap enough for use with printing processes. It took several iterations before they had developed the right type of paper to work with Guthenburg’s press.

It would take several more centuries, and the industrial revolution to get writing from an elite skill to one that most people would learn. With increased literacy the diversity of topics covered by newspapers and books could increase as fast as people could print.

Spatial awareness

One of the great things about physical libraries is that they train your mind to think spatially. If you have hundreds of books spread across several rooms on multiple floors you need a good memory to remember which book is where. Your subconscious takes note of where things are constantly. If you have 30 books, your brain would never develop that skill.

Having more than 30 books doesn’t mean that you will even read the physical book. I have seen books when visiting friends and I’ve bought the e-book version rather than the physical one.

The idea of limiting yourself to 30 books bothers me because it’s a limitation on the diversity and creative directions that a person can take. To limit yourself to 30 books means that you can have a maximum of thirty topics. That’s one book a day for a medium month. That’s one book a year if you’re 30 years old. That’s a tragic way of looking at things.

I can remember reading 191 books, am currently reading 60 and want to read 196 books

I can remember reading 191 books, am currently reading 60 and want to read 196 books. That’s 447 books in total and several weeks worth of reading if I read non-stop. That’s excluding the reading of newspapers, magazines, comic books, blogs, reports and other forms of content.

This information is no longer relevant

I started to go through and catalogue physical books that were in my bedroom. This information is no longer correct. This provides intellectual flexibility. This does not constitute clutter.

Virtual Library

Despite my love for physical books I buy virtual ones these days. I have 144 kindle books, 273 Audible books and 95 Kobo books. In theory I could take Marie Kondo’s idea of having 30 physical books down to 0 physical books and have 30 Kobo or Kindle devices instead. I could also have two or three mp3 players with my entire audible collection. That would take much less space.

Conclusion

In the 21st century the need for physical books is gone. With a mobile phone you can read from multiple libraries at a time. With a single Kobo, Kindle or other e-book reader you can gain access to hundreds of books. The drawback is that you are not moving in space. By having a physical library of books across several rooms you need to get up and move. You need to develop your spatial awareness and you train your memory to remember where things are in the physical world. By limiting yourself to 30 books you are limiting the diversity of topics that you can spontaneously read about. I believe that to have a wide diversity of books promotes intellectual well being.

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