Katherine Wagner.

Citizen’s Ink: Books are not clutter

‘They are humanity’s connective tissue.’

The Merriam dictionary defines clutter as “scattered or disordered things that impede movement or reduce effectiveness.”

I propose that books are none of these things, even when they teeter in piles on the floor.

I own a lot of books. Tangible, physical-space-occupying, paper and paste books. Enough books that when our eldest son moved out, we converted his bedroom into a library.

Despite the installation of several floor-to-ceiling bookcases, the new room accommodates only about half of my current collection. I write at a small desk in the corner of that room, next to a window. An overstuffed chair sits in the middle of the space. It’s perfect. There are always books within reach.

A friend recently made a quip about “hoarding.” I’m pretty sure it was a joke.

Viewers of the Netflix show Tidying Up With Marie Kondo may have misinterpreted her suggestion to keep only 30 books, but it was heartening to observe so many people passionately defending their books.

Some of my books have brought me joy, but judging books based only on pleasure neglects other aspects of their value.

Excellent fiction sparks a range of emotions. It offers perspective and encourages empathy, but can also be deeply disturbing and enlightening. Non-fiction books — reference, research, cookbooks, how-to and more — are invaluable sources of knowledge and wisdom. Internet searches are not a replacement for books and increasingly require a lot of wading through marketing.

Of course, I occasionally cull my book collection. Novels I’ve read, and don’t plan to revisit or loan to friends, are donated or taken to used bookstores.

Unread books are worlds waiting to be explored. Well-written fiction leaves room for the reader’s imagination to complete the story. As such, every reader has a different experience.

Books are magic. Writers who lived long ago, such as Shakespeare, Mary Shelley and Jane Austen, reach across the centuries to conjure worlds inside the imagination of anyone reading their work today.

At least 136 million physical books have been published since Gutenberg invented the printing press in the mid-15th Century. The first electronic book was created in 1971 as part of Project Gutenberg and ebooks exploded in popularity three decades later.

For a while, there were predictions ebooks would supplant physical books. However, ebook sales are down, while physical book sales are up. According to the American Association of Publishers, last year the revenue from hardcover and softcover books rose by 6.5 and two per cent respectively, compared to 2017. Ebook revenue was down 2.8 percent. Audio books are a new trend and their revenue was up 37.1 per cent.

There is a place for all formats. While I own more books than average, I don’t trip over piles because many of my books are in electronic format.

Television, movies, social media, the Internet and games compete with books for attention but publishing is holding its own.

Movies and television are two dimensional. Books take you inside the hearts and minds of the characters. As the saying goes, never judge a book by its movie (or series).

There are concerning trends. According to the American Bureau of Labor Statistics, reading for pleasure was down more than 20 percent from 2004 to 2018 and the decline was highest among men.

To reiterate, books are not clutter – they are humanity’s connective tissue.

I once read a decorating article that suggested gluing books together. Books may occasionally need to be re-homed and possibly even discarded if they become mildewed or otherwise damaged, but books should never be mistaken for knickknacks or other purely decorative objects.

Finally, no matter how few or many books reside in each of our homes, we collectively own thousands of books in the form of local libraries. The Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows libraries are important public spaces where anyone is welcome. Support for public and school libraries will ensure we all continue to have access to books.

Katherine Wagner is a member of the

Citizens’ Task Force on Transparency,

a former school trustee and member

of Golden Ears Writers.

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