More Thoughts on Thinning the Library

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The books on our shelf we want you to see.

Kelly’s series of posts on the KonMari tidying method and my post on thinning out the our books, have thrown an ugly spotlight on the inner hoarder in all of us. I don’t think any other posts on this blog has been rewteeted as much as these tidying rants. Mark Frauenfelder linked to the book post on BoingBoing and the resulting comment thread contained a lot of great ideas and resources (and some awesome bookshelf porn). I thought I’d roundup a few BoingBoing reader notions:

Go Digital!
A BoingBoing commenter added a rule to my list, “If you can find a digital copy on Google books or other, toss it!” As far as ebooks go, I’m just not a fan of looking at screens for hours at a time. But the shift to “E-ink” displays is a game changer. Kelly has a Kindle Paperwhite she really likes. Ebooks bring up a lot of thorny issues, of course, about the future of libraries, digital rights management and the fragility of digitally stored information. These are topics well beyond my area of expertise. Let’s just say I’m open to both digital and old fashioned paper. I like that a lot of classics are available online for free and that digital libraries don’t take up space in our house. But I also appreciate the look and feel of physical books and the fact that they don’t require batteries.

Selling Books
I do this too. I sell through Amazon and just started using an Amazon seller’s app on Kelly’s iPod to facilitate this. One problem with this is that you end up with a pile of books that sit around until someone buys them. And just because a book has a high used price on Amazon doesn’t mean that anyone wants to buy it (weirdly high prices are often, in fact, indicate a book nobody wants). To avoid having stack of books sitting around waiting for a buyer, one commenter in Portland noted how easy it is to go down to Powells and sell and purge all at once. Alas, that doesn’t fly in Los Angeles (note to locals: please correct me if I’m wrong about that).

Bookcrossing.com
I had to resort to Wikipedia to grok Bookcrossing:

Bookcrossing . . . is defined as “the practice of leaving a book in a public place to be picked up and read by others, who then do likewise.” The term is derived from bookcrossing.com, a free online book club which was founded to encourage the practice, aiming to “make the whole world a library.”

The ‘crossing’ or exchanging of books may take any of a number of forms, including wild-releasing books in public, direct swaps with other members of the websites, or “book rings” in which books travel in a set order to participants who want to read a certain book. The community aspect of BookCrossing.com has grown and expanded in ways that were not expected at the outset, in the form of blog or forum discussions, mailing lists and annual conventions throughout the world.

For me, Bookcrossing confirms our hidden animistic view of our possessions. I’m not sure this facilitates getting rid of stuff. If you’re a Bookcrossing fan, please correct me. Despite reading the Bookcrossing website multiple times, I’m not sure I understand what it’s all about.

Scheduling Periodic Purges
Several people noted that curating a library (or clothes, for that matter) is an ongoing process. Some pare possessions quarterly, others yearly. Others, like us, wait for a crisis. Some have a kind of one in, one out rule–basically limiting your library to what will fit on your shelves, disallowing homeless tomes or buying more bookshelves.

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Jennie Cook’s Little Free Library

The Little Free Library Movement
Our neighbor Jennie Cook installed one of these down the street from us. It’s a box in the parkway. Anyone can leave or take a book. One funny thing that’s happened is that I’ve managed to pick up an number of our neighbor Doug Harvey’s books out of this box while he managed to pick up a half dozen of my books at the local library book sale. Thanks to our local Little Free Library, I’m looking forward to reading Doug’s copy of Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake.

Public Library Quality
No doubt about it, local libraries vary in quality and the quantity of holdings. One the reasons I enjoy being in a big city is access to a large library system.

Vanity
I love this comment by BoingBoing reader “Medievalist”:

You reveal my guilty secret… I arrange my books based on vanity, essentially peacocking my tastes and attitudes to visitors. Guy de Maupassant is not likely to be down at child’s-eye level, nor is Charles Schulz likely to be five feet off the floor. The bookshelves visitors see make me look far more erudite than I really am, with my vast collection of pre-1970 science fiction de-emphasized and my much smaller collection of philosophical, religious and art books well to the fore.

Yeah, it’s probably shallow. Or at least in my case it is, since I’m kind of embarrassed by it and would never have admitted it if you hadn’t done first.

Guilty as charged! My Harvard classics library is at eye level in the living room. My embarrassing books got purged. I suspect Doug now owns my copy of Nazi UFO Secrets.

033 A GMO-Free Los Angeles with Joanne Poyourow

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Joanne Poyourow of Environmental Change-Makers tells the story of her part in trying to ban GMO seeds in Los Angeles. During the show Joanne mentions:

Joanne’s blog can be found at www.Change-Making.com.

If you want to leave a question for the Root Simple Podcast please call (213) 537-2591 or send an email to [email protected]. You can subscribe to our podcast in the iTunes store and on Stitcher. The theme music is by Dr. Frankenstein. Additional music by Rho. A downloadable version of this podcast is here.

Everything Must Go Part II: Books

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Will I ever read this Baudrillard scroll?

Kelly’s summary of the methods of Japanese tidying guru Marie Kondo seems to have struck a nerve both on our blog and in Facebook. Some people find Kondo’s techniques liberating and in others they instill an existential dread. More than a few expressed a desire to drag a reluctant partner into a Kondo cleansing.

One of the first steps on Kondosans’ path to a tidy house is to go through one’s books. We managed to accumulate more books than our shelves could hold. An untidy and anxiety producing book pile had developed in the living room. It was time for a book cleansing.

But let me first state our rule about buying books. My gym is mere steps from the Los Angeles Central Library from which I can easily access over 6.2 million books, movies, CDs and downloadable media. I don’t buy books that I can check out at the library unless I need it as a reference book or if the library doesn’t have it. Even with this rule we still managed to accumulate a library’s worth of volumes, some never touched.

The triage I went through:

The book was released to the universe if:

  • I had read it and absorbed the information
  • The library has a copy
  • It does not give me joy
  • I don’t think I’ll ever read it
  • My interests have changed
  • I read part but don’t think I’ll read the rest

I kept the book if:

  • It’s a volume I refer to for reference on a regular basis
  • It gives me joy
  • It’s especially beautiful as an object (only one or two books actually ended up in this category–I’m not a book collector)
  • I really intend to read it
  • I want to re-read it

Both Kelly and I got rid of I came to much the same conclusion as Nassim Taleb does in this tweet:

If time passes and a book get more relevant it’s likely to stay relevant (this is the Lindy effect Taleb is referring to). Just like Taleb, the books on philosophy and theology stayed in addition to most of the appropriate technology and gardening manuals. We have no math books (not our subject to put it mildly) and popular science and non-fiction books I get at the library. Everything else “died” and went to our local library’s book sale.

What can make it difficult to let go of books, even ones we never really intend to read, is that our personal libraries are an external manifestation of our souls. And, in my case that external manifestation is so distinctive and crazy that our friend and neighbor Doug Harvey, when perusing the weekly library book sale, instantly recognized that I had purged my books. He actually bought at least eight of them. And he noted that I had gotten rid of The Food Journal of Lewis & Clark that he had gifted to me over the holidays. A lot of the books that I purged can only be described as 90s geek-boy paranoia. If you’d like some of those 90s books plus a few outdated poultry care books, get thee to the Edendale library book sale on Wednesday. That’s assuming our local hipsters haven’t scooped up all my books in a fit of 90s nostalgia.

Have you done or are you considering a book purge? What will stay and what will go?

Saturday Tweets: Bikes, Soil Bacteria and Low Fat Diets

Erik on WFAE’s Charlotte Talks

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I’ll be one of the guests tomorrow (Friday January 9) at 9 AM EST on the Charlotte Talks Show on WFAE 90.7. The topic is “urban homesteading.” It’s a call-in show so save up those questions. Guests include:

Matt Kokenes – Founder, MicroFarm Organic Gardens

Laura Denyes – co-owner, Wish We Had Acres Farm

Dr. Dave Hamilton – co-owner, Wish We Had Acres Farm; Naturopathic Doctor, Carolinas Natural Health in Matthews

Erik Knutzen – author, blogger and podcaster, The Urban Homestead, Making It: Radical Home Economics for a Post-Consumer World and Root Simple; co-founder, Los Angeles Bread Bakers

The show will be available for streaming around noon EST here.

Rip-sawing by hand

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The first thing that comes to mind looking at this illustration from the classic turn of the last century manual The Complete Woodworker is, can we please bring back working in a tie, vest and apron? You’d probably have to journey deep into Brooklyn’s artisinal ghetto to find contemporary examples of dapper carpenters.

But I digress. What I like about this illustration is the deft use of the right leg in place of clamps when rip-sawing (cutting a piece of wood lengthwise with the grain). Some other pointers:

The angle at which the saw is held is of importance . . . A common mistake is to “lay” the saw: that is, to bring it too much into the horizontal, and this is especially the case when learning to follow the pencil lines with the saw. It is a habit which the beginner should get out of as soon as he can. The stroke should be wellnigh the full length of the saw, although this must depend somewhat upon the length of the worker’s arm; but in any case jerky sawing should be avoided. To lessen the strain on the hand and also to assist the saw in keeping to the line, do not grip the tool very tightly. . . In rip sawing the plank requires to be supported at each end, either on sawing stools or boxes. When the work tends to close and pinch the saw, a tendency which is always more evident when the sawing is not true, it will be necessary to hold the cut open, for which purpose the services of an assistant should be obtained, or, frequently, a small wedge may be inserted.

The illustration reminds me of the low to the ground benches and footwork of traditional Japanese carpentry:

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And Egyptian carpentry:

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I’ve seen video footage of present day Egyptian carpenters working barefoot. Feet, after all, can be just as handy as hands when it comes to manipulating a long board.

I’m thankful to be able to go electric rather than acoustic when doing rip-sawing around our compound. I don’t have a table saw, but I have managed to rip quite a few pieces of wood with my circular saw. That said, I’ve long felt like I need to learn some hand tool skills. Maybe barefooted and in a tie and vest?

032 Grist and Toll, an urban flour mill

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In episode 32 of the Root Simple Podcast I talk with Nan Kohler, owner and miller at Grist & Toll, a mill in Pasadena, California–and the first mill to operate in the L.A. area in the last one hundred years. We discuss varieties of wheat, the health benefits of whole grains, how to work with them and why flavor is important. Kelly is not on this episode but will return to the podcast next week.

Links
Ruth Reichl visits baker Richard Bertinet in England

Joaquin Oro wheat

White Bread: A Social History of the Store-Bought Loaf

If you want to leave a question for the Root Simple Podcast please call (213) 537-2591 or send an email to [email protected]. You can subscribe to our podcast in the iTunes store and on Stitcher. The theme music is by Dr. Frankenstein. Additional music by Rho. A downloadable version of this podcast is here.

Is it safe to use cinder blocks or red bricks in stoves and ovens?

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Source: Capturing Heat.

As how-to book and blog authors we face many questions that begin, “Is it safe to . . . ?” And, for some reason, any post of ours involving rocket stoves sets off a firestorm of incoming Google hits.

An old blog post on a “Redneck Rocket Stove” made out of cinder blocks prompted many to suggest that the cinder blocks would explode due to heat. Leon, of the blog Survival Common Sense, does a good job of refuting this notion in a blog post, “Build a brick rocket stove: Is it safe to use concrete blocks?” The short answer is that those concrete blocks are not going to explode. But if you want something permanent you should use fire bricks and fire clay as mortar so it won’t crack.

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Related to this issue is our use of regular bricks in the hearth of our adobe oven. Most sources suggest using fire bricks or kiln bricks. Kurt Gardella, the adobe master who led the workshop where we built our adobe oven, is a fan of recycling materials and saving money. We happened to have a pile of ordinary red bricks and he said it would be fine to use them for the oven floor. He was right. We have fired the oven many times and none of the floor bricks have cracked. If I had not had the red bricks on hand and I was at the brick yard buying materials for an oven, I probably would have bought fire bricks. But having just paid for sand and straw gives me cheapskate bragging rights.

Opinions? Have you faced this issue?