My Willa Cather research is taking over the apartment like literary kudzu. My kitchen table is covered in articles, my desk piled high with biographies and critical editions. I now have to place my keys on top of library books on the hall table, and the library won’t lend me any more volumes until I return those I’ve already got. And yet the reason I like Cather is because of her uncluttered style. Nothing extraneous. Novels like Shadows on the Rock and Death Comes for the Archbishop are beautifully lean. “Art,” she said, “should simplify.” It means cutting everything you possibly can, while still “preserv[ing] the spirit of the whole.”
I’ve tried my best to apply her advice to my grad-school life. I ride a single-speed bicycle—limited parts, limited maintenance. I rotate through a single laundry load of clothes. I use two pairs of shoes—running and non-running. I eat the same meals every day. I wake up at six—no weekend lie-ins. The only thing I wish I had about five more of is my electrical converter—I’m constantly ferrying it around the apartment.
These limitations have freed space in my life for other things—relationships, daydreams, and yes, more books. Of course, Cather’s statement isn’t original (everyone from William Morris and Gustave Flaubert to Steve Jobs and Marie Kondo has said as much), but for me, even though Cather whittled down her novels, she didn’t sweep up the wood shavings, “so that all that one [had] suppressed and cut away is there to the reader’s consciousness as much as if it were in type on the page.” And that makes me feel better about the piles of her books scattered around my bedroom.
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