Friday, September 3, 2010

Minimalism and Books

Awhile back I read a post by Everett Bogue from Far Beyond the Stars.

About the only thing he and I have in common are my interest in simplicity and minimalism. He's a vagabond who can literally pick up and live anywhere. I'm a 40-year old married woman with a husband, job, house, and kid. And I like it that way.

I do love to read his blog. This particular post was about books. How to divest yourself of your library. I've been thinking about it for a long while and decided it is time to write about it. I'd meant to write about it earlier, but my not-so-simple life with a job, child, traveling husband, and my first triathlon has kept me busy the last few weeks.

Books can wreak havoc on a frugal and simple life. But boy. I love books. I've always loved books. My husband and I used to go on our weekly "dates" to bookstores. We read. A lot. I've run the gamut from romance (not anymore) to mystery (still love them) to food and food ethics. And cooking. I have a bookshelf dedicated to cookbooks. My spouse also reads mysteries and sci fi/fantasy. And we both enjoy "how to" books (we're engineers, what can I say, woodworking, cooking, landscaping, crafts...)

Everett states:
Physical books are a thing of the past.

They’re expensive to produce, difficult to distribute, and it’s hard to get one published. More importantly, the publishing industry does not compensate writers nearly enough for their time and impact on the world

I can see his point on not properly paying authors, and the difficulty in getting published. While I don't have personal experience, a few of my friends do. This is one reason that if I can buy a book directly from the author, I do.

He also points out the impact on the environment. This is a very good point. One that I have thought about time and again as I've tried to divest myself of 15 year old college textbooks. Nobody wants them. You can't recycle them. What a complete and utter waste of resources, not to mention money. I can see why some professors I know are going entirely to just their own "notes" that you can download from class websites. I enjoy borrowing books from the library (which limits the environmental impact). However, then you have the problem (again) of supporting the author. Fewer books sold = less money.

He also states:
7. Knowledge over ownership.

The information in the book is in you after you read it. The information, if valuable, becomes a part of your brain’s knowledge-base.

Why keep a physical reminder of the ideas?

Truth be told most or us will never read a book twice, so why are we keeping books around for our entire lifetimes? To me that’s just silly. Read the book and get rid of it. Alternatively, just buy digital on Kindle or from indie authors and read on a device or computer.

For many books, I have to disagree. There's only so much room in my brain. For how-to's, like cooking, crafts, or a combination of tips like in "The Complete Tightwad Gazette", I must have a hard copy. And these books, I read over and over again. There are other books that I just loved so much that I kept. These are slowly finding their way out of my house. The mystery novels that I do re-read, I keep. The others, I loan out, then, donate. My husband actually keeps books that he read in high school. He's slowly but surely paring down, but he rereads books even more than I do.

And a computer or kindle isn't the same as a book. This is where I show my age. While my 20-something coworkers are using their Iphones, computers, texting, etc., to track data, keep in touch, schedule appointments...I simply need paper. It's how I absorb information, learn new things. I write. With paper. And pens or pencils. I think, maybe, I'm a bit of a dinosaur. I'm trying to use less paper (that pesky environment thing again). But at some point, you have to recognize your own abilities and needs. And there's nothing like curling up in the couch with a good book. Or turning pages in Goodnight Moon when reading to your kid. To heck with a laptop.

(But he does make a good point about Shakespeare. I do have his complete works. Leather bound. I'm not going to read them. Last time I put them in the donate pile, my hubby took them out. Now, the copy of Walden, I'll keep. It was my dad's personal copy, and he loved it.)

And of course:
3. Declare yourself free from the idea of the physical book.

Once you’ve embraced the idea of information abundance, you can basically do anything you want. Travel for five weeks in the Australian outback, hike up to Machu Picchu, or perhaps sit on the beach in Nicaragua for seven weeks. The possibilities are, as always, endless.

This is a nice little reminder of the sheer differences between my life and his. While I can learn a lot from him to simplify - truth be told I can't travel in the outback with a 4 year old. Unless it's during summer break. Which is winter in Australia. Brrr.


j. said...

There are some things I just *can't* get rid of. I may only have one or two of them with me, and the rest in storage, but it's *important*.

It's actually my biggest stumbling block in trying to have a simple life (well, that and just being me...). I know what I need, and I don't *need* my great grandmother's teaching books. Or the old chairs, or my grandmother's ring. Eventually, I'll scale up what I live with, and be surrounded by my family history. I sometimes wonder if people with only 100 or 200 total possessions have physical pieces of their history, or if it doesn't matter to them. Besides, the 150 year old desk my father's using now is better built than anything you can find in a shop.

Meanwhile, ebooks are great if you only read something once. If you go back and re-read books over and over, or like just wandering through reference books, physical books are better. I often can't remember what the title was, but I know the book I need has a red spine and a molecule on it, or a yellow cover with a viking in the middle.

Daniel said...

I feel exactly the same way about Everett. I love his views on minimalism, and while he takes it to a much more extreme degree in his life than I (or you) want to, his ideas are extremely thought-provoking. I've gained a lot by reading him and I've applied a lot of minimalist concepts to my life--including this thinking about book ownership.

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