I reacted with horror when I saw the headline: February 20th is “Clean Out Your Bookcase Day.” I envisioned some Marie Kondo-inspired book burning exercise designed to reach her (grossly wrong) ideal of keeping less than 30 books in the house.
Luckily, that’s not the idea at all. [Phew!]
“Clean Out Your Bookcase Day” turns out to be when “avid readers and bibliophiles focus on getting their bookcases clean and in order.” Sure, you can remove books that you no longer want, but mostly the day is a reminder that you need feed and care for your books as if they were valued family members (which, of course, they are). This is the time to dust the books, especially the top shelf ones, and wipe down your precious bookcases. You can also reorganize – or organize for the first time – your collection. Does Agatha Christie really belong next to Stephen Hawking? Who put that romance novel in my science section?
My collection is mostly books about Abraham Lincoln, roughly 1200 in all. There are at least another 500 non-Lincoln books strewn about the house. I probably treat this second group like second-class citizens, but the first step toward change is to admit the need to change, right? In any case, Lincoln dominates my office library, my upstairs library, and my overflow library (not to mention a few tables and stairways). I’ve thought about rearranging into categories – assassination books on one shelf, books about his law career on another, perhaps early life vs later life – but the logistics of doing that with so many books are too scary to even get the project started. For now I’ll stick with my current system, which is filling shelves with new arrivals and keeping a spreadsheet telling me where to find any given title. That is, assuming that particular book isn’t in a pile somewhere or being used as reference for my WIP.
I admit that I don’t dust my bookshelves often enough. The upstairs library gets less daily use so tends to accumulate the most residue between cleanings. The writing table books tend to move on and off so stay relatively clean. At least that’s what I tell myself when I’m too overwhelmed to break out the dust cloth.
I’ll never engage in the kind of “joyful destruction” ordered by Marie Kondo (<30 books? Seriously?), but I like the idea of a “Clean Out Your Bookcase Day.” I’m sure some cleaning guru will (rightly) chastise the concept of dusting your books only once a year, but this is a day also to appreciate your collection. While you’re there, pull one of the unread books off the shelf and read it.
Or if it doesn’t give you joy, donate it. Yeah, you can do that too.
David J. Kent is a science traveler and the author of Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, in Barnes and Noble stores now. His previous books include Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (2013) and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (2016) and two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate.
[Photo: By me, but I swear this is not my usual storage system. Well, at least not on the floor. Note Lincoln in the background keeping watch.]