Saturday, May 24, 2008

Kapitalismus, Kommunismus, Klutter

Came across an interview of Peter Walsh, a clear-clutter guru, on Galleycat. He talks about people with too many books, there are people who read a book that changes their life and don't need to own the book any more, others who think of the book as containing information, if they get rid of the book they are divesting themselves of this. Ron Hogan, the interviewer, says this helped him to get rid of many books.

Walsh, it seems, has won a wide audience through Oprah.

When I first came to Berlin I spent a few thousand dollars a year on books ordered online. I had a reader's card for the Staatsbibliothek, but I had not registered with the police which meant I could not get the kind of card that entitles you to borrow books. A couple of years ago I forced myself to go to the local authority, which is about 500 metres from my house, and register with the police. I was then able to upgrade to the reader's ticket which lets your borrow books. A reader's ticket costs 25 euros a year, with or without borrowing privileges; to borrow you need to register with the police.

In 2005 I bought 140 books online. In 2006 90 (registered toward the end of the year). In 2007 60. Some of these books are not in the collection at the Staatsbibliothek.

If I could get everything I wanted from the Stabi I would have far fewer books in my apartment. If I could keep my books in some kind of books cooperative, where I had 24-hour access, I would hand them in like a shot.

The problem is, I spent my teens in places with tiny libraries. At 16 I lived in Guayaquil, Ecuador; the only source of books was a room in the consulate filled with cast-off paperbooks, a collection determined by the wisdom of crowds. People in places with small libraries find themselves spoilt for choice if they want the works of Mazo de la Roche, turn to Amazon if they want Bolano. [sorry, enye not working in Blogger] If they want to refer to a text, they have no choice but to give it shelf space in the home.

The odd thing about the people who specialise in decluttering people's lives is that no one ever talks about the possibility of (shock horror) communal ownership. The alternatives offered are a) private ownership and b) divestment. So you have to choose between having a Greek-English Lexicon in the home, which you consult a few times a year, or not having access to one at all. The idea that you might be better off as a member of a group, so that you all paid once for a book you all might occasionally have use for, and all clubbed together to pay for a place to keep the collection... well, it's not that it smacks of Communism. It's not that it's unAmerican. It's so absolutely alien it's not even considered as a possibility.


Anonymous said...

It's a good idea, except that it requires time to manage. Instead of throwing away why not give to charity.

Ithaca said...

I think the anti-clutter brigade do in fact recommend giving to charity. So I could clear my shelves by giving the OCTs of Homer, Sophocles, Aeschylus, Euripides, Virgil, Ovid and so many more to charity. I don't reread Proust every year, so I could give the set to charity. I could give Liddell & Scott to charity. I could give the Oxford Latin Dictionary to charity... If I belonged to some kind of book coop, I would still probably prefer to keep my OLD in the home, but there are some books I would be happy to have available for others to use when I wasn't reading them, if it didn't mean permanently relinquishing them.

Nathaniel said...

Depends on the size of the book co-op in terms of time spent managing. Maybe have members required to provide a certain amount of time in a year (month might be better) to organizing it. Use some sort of simple database manager (there are even a bunch of easy ones specifically for books) to keep track of the books. Organize it by Library of Congress if you want to be really sure of finding a book, because that's the most accessible cataloguing system in terms of finding the numbers.

Of course, at what point do you pass over into the territory of what might be better incorporated as a neighbourhood public library? And where do you store these books?

Writing that sentence, it hit me what a strange and personal sort of library co-op would be one that divided its sections among its members' dwellings. So you might not be able to get a book at a certain moment, but you would arrange a time or stop by and then the member would take you to the space they had set aside for the section (or sections, depending on how much available space the member had declared to the co-op) and then took the book out. After finishing it you'd drop it in the respective member's mail slot.

Finally, related simply to the clutter, my mother has a memory of me as a child that scared her as a possessive bibliophile. During a move she asked me to take all the books I thought I could do without and place them in a pile. In front of her I quickly began paring down the collection of the books in my room. "I don't need this...nope, don't need this one...guess I'll keep, don't see reading this one again...etc."

Ithaca said...

NS, I think I wd do it differently, have books in one place. Joint collection to which one contributes books one doesn't want back; books one doesn't want use often but would want back arranged by owner for ease of recollection if owner moves away, entered in LibraryThing for ease of search. I read somewhere that there was some fairly small size at which an honour system works for shared goods; perfect efficiency would be sacrificed to give the best chance of not having one's OLD nicked behind one's back.

ghost said...

A friend of mine will be taking over the small municipal library next month and I briefly thought whether I'd give away my books if I lived nearby. I can't keep buying shelves as if I'd never move away...but the 24hr access's one of the important aspects I would not be able to do without.

ah utopias.

Will Grizzly said...

Many co-ops that I've been a part of have had members-only libraries, but these were generally poorly taken care of because of the secondary nature of the library compared to the primary purpose of the co-op (ie, cooking or gardening or bike-making). A dedicated book co-op would be a beautiful thing.

On the other hand, I rather like the idea of an online/postal book exchange program, and I know there are several in existence, although I haven't had the chance to try one out yet. I suppose this appeals to me because I was always ordering things on inter-library loan when I was in college.