Slice of Life

Downsizing Literature is a Struggle

I’ve been looking more and more online for reading content. There’s only so much Facebook I can stomach and only so much Reddit I can browse before I start transforming every thought into a meme. The idea is to build a network of blogs that will keep me entertained and informed with which to engage. In short, I’m looking for more… substantial and rewarding media while I continue to downsize and redefine my material needs.

Today, I discovered ElectronicLit, a site curated by several authors focused on literature and reading. As is their tagline, it’s pretty lit. Not just lit as in the buoying of literature where the authors repeatedly high-five themselves. The site’s objective is not to proselytize reading and put YA novels in the hands of every 9 – 12 year old for only $17.99 a month from viewers like you. The place is gritty. Some of the articles are fairly aggressive on theories about literature’s meta and the impact it has on our culture.

The biggest differences in me today is that I’m looking to downsize my physical collection of literature. Don’t get me wrong, I have absolutely no intentions of slowing my consumption, but I’m redefining my value system. More on this in a minute.

Although I have all this motivation to move items from my shelves to the “donate me” tote, I’m struggling with physically carrying out this task. In search for the reason, I turned to the nerdosphere for advice.

My current issue is akin to an earlier (but long broken) habit of forcing myself to finish books. Frishberg’s article sums up the compulsion: “I loved telling people that I always finished books. I loved the righteousness…” It was a point of pride to’ve completed more books than my conversation partner.

In her article, McGregor probes deeper, revealing the act of reading itself is a morality defined by culture: “The figure of the ‘intelligent, general reader’ as free to read across categories… lets the book market moralize reading and books in general… To be a reader is better than to not be a reader…” I’m continuing to cling to this idea, no matter how mildly, that reading makes me a better person. Is this what’s causing my reluctance to downsize?

In a BookRiot article, Allen notes, “By age 35, you should have an entire shelf of books you know for a fact you’ll never read, but you want people visiting your house to see that you own them.” And there’s the rub. Downsizing is forcing me to wrestle with the socio-economic importance placed on books and how it affects me on a personal level. So here we go.

There is a psychological pleasure – not only the endorphins from finishing a task – but the social credit garnered from completing books themselves. Hell, Allen poses one can purchase this currency simply in proximity to literature. Turn literal cash into figurative credit by simply owning and showcasing books in your home.

It’s an intangible, classist form of currency, and this one involves no inherent skill or biological predisposition to acquire. Thus, anyone can bank this currency so long as they access any one of the various modes of written word.

One can insert an argument for libraries and how they maintain the status quo. Even the poor class can freely access literature, even if they don’t have the means to own it, so if they choose not to access it, that’s on them. I’m not nearly as pessimistic as this thought, but the argument is there nonetheless.

What do we gain from literature’s social transaction? The quick answer is nothing. The complicated answer is it’s just another means by which to rank and file society. It’s nothing more than “social posturing.”

Reddit just ended its “invisible internet points” meme wave, but continues its “cakeday harvesting.” We live in a highly introspective society that sees the irony in its own self-fulfilling rules with its own hollow currency (i.e, social media “likes”). It’s actually kind of beautiful when you take a step back, but as consumers, it doesn’t stop us from completely feeding into the trend.

Like all forms of social currency, it really doesn’t matter except to those who deem it important. Only “readers” will care if other people are “readers.” And being a “reader” is as ill-defined as being “spiritual.” It means something different to everyone who uses the word, thus it literally becomes meaningless. Hollow, all of it. Pointless, hollow, and without value.

What can I do about my literature hang ups? Break the wheel. Enjoy the irony of social currency and continue to define my own values (i.e., the “shitfuck”) as I downsize for the betterment of me and my life without focusing outwardly on how others might value my decisions.  As far as my current situation, no one but myself cares how many books I own. I don’t have visitors to scan my shelves, no one talks about reading at work, and I don’t have many local friends whose opinions impact me. Reading is a thing I do, it’s not who I am.

And with that, let’s get to downsizing.

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