I read three books close to each other in time which made a strong impression on me Way of Choices by Mao Ni, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo, and Deep Survival by Gonzales, Laurence. Even though they belong to totally different genres, and are aimed at different audiences – Deep Survival is mix of stories of deadly or almost-deadly experiences mixed with an analysis of the psychological differences between survivors and non-survivors (this is an example of one of the true stories profiled in the book), Way of Choices is a Chinese xuanhuan novel, and The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up is about home organization – there is a surprising amount of overlap in their themes.
I’m going to leave out Deep Survival for now, and just focus on The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up (KonMari) and Way of Choices.
So you’re going to KonMari Way of Choices, eh?
What does that mean?
It means you’re going to declutter everything in Way of Choices that doesn’t spark joy for you.
No, I’m not going to do that. I don’t like using ‘KonMari’ as a synonym for ‘decluttering’, and I’m also not trying to ‘declutter’ Way of Choices.
C’mon, that novel is over 4000 pages long, there has to something in there that doesn’t spark joy for you.
It is true that there were some things in Way of Choices which did not spark joy for me, but that isn’t the purpose of this post.
So what is the purpose of this post?
Exploring the thematic overlap between the two books.
How are you going to do that?
I’m going to start by looking at the protagonist of Way of Choices, Chen Changsheng, from the perspective of the KonMari Method.
Does he have a lot of stuff?
Let’s go through the KonMari categories.
CLOTHES: I forget how many robes he has, maybe a dozen? They are all identical, so you could say they are his ‘uniform’. There is one occasion in the story where he decided to wear something different, so he asked to borrow clothes from a friend. He keeps his robes incredibly clean, in fact that he is so obsessed with wearing clean clothing that he carries around with him spare clean clothes in case the clothes he’s wearing gets dirty. Joy Check: Clean clothes which don’t require to think too much about which set of robes he is going to put on sparks joy for Chen Changsheng.
BOOKS: He’s memorized a few thousand books, and he tends to live in places with large libraries, but he possesses very few books himself. Joy Check: One of the very few books in his possession contains one of the most disturbing things he has ever read, it’s so disturbing that he causes him to question his will to survive, that maybe it’s better that he die rather than pursue his goals. IIRC he won’t even think about giving that book to anyone else because it’s so dangerous, but maybe he eventually shares it with someone else, I’m not sure. In any case, I don’t think that book sparks joy for him.
PAPERS: I’m sure he does have to deal with a lot of paperwork since he interacts with various bureaucracies, but the paper document he has which plays the largest role in the story is his marriage vow with Xu Yourong. Joy Check: a marriage vow to a person he doesn’t want to marry which motivates multiple people to kill him doesn’t spark joy for him. In fact, he tries to get rid of it, but fails at least once (revealing the ultimate fate of the marriage vow paper would be a spoiler).
MISCELLANY: Chen Changsheng gets about 10,000 swords during the story.
Did you just say that he has about TEN THOUSAND swords?
Yes, at one point in the story. But he gives a lot of them away, so he only has a few thousand swords. He also has a sword scabbard which is a bag of holding, which is very convenient for carrying around thousands of swords, as well as spare sparkly-clean robes. He acquires other miscellaneous things of course, such as those extremely rare and expensive Thousand Li buttons which allow one-time use teleportation, a world, and-
Wait, did you say that Chen Changsheng acquires a ‘world’?
It’s just a small world, much smaller than the world he lives in. Anyway, he acquires some very miscellaneous things, but swords stand out because of their quantity. Joy Check: I think having lots of swords which can save his life multiple times sparks joy for Chen Changsheng. Then again, passing on those swords to others (which also saves his life at least once) also sparks joy for him.
SENTIMENTAL: He has that toy grasshopper (or is it a cricket?) he received as a child that he still keeps, even though it’s been damaged because he submerges it in water at one point. Joy Check: I’m not sure, I guess it sparks at least a little joy for him since he’s kept it all these years.
Sara, you forgot to talk about imagining an ideal lifestyle!
You’re right, I did. In Chen Changsheng’s vision of his ideal life, he is still alive after he turns twenty years old, and he also lives into his 30s, 40s, etc. But he’s fated to die by the age of 20, so he is on a mission to change his fate.
Is that all he wants? To stay alive?
No, and because staying alive is so damn hard for him, he has to give serious thought to why he wants to stay alive. It’s clear that he doesn’t want to stay alive at any cost, and he occasionally considers giving up.
So why does he want to stay alive?
He has a very high level of curiosity, and wants to explore the world in many different ways – reading more books, travelling more, studying the stones that fell from the heavens, learning more about the world which falls into his possession, etc. He also wants to spend time with his loved ones (though who counts as a ‘loved one’ changes during the course of the story, as some of his loved ones become enemies, and some of his enemies become loved ones). And even if he’s not with his loved ones, he doesn’t want to cause them to mourn him, and he wants to be able to help and protect them, even from the distance.
Why does he want to indulge his curiosity? Why does he want to spend time with his loved ones? Why does he want to spare his loved ones grief? Why does he want be around to protect them?
If Chen Changsheng were actually going through the KonMari method, he’d have to answer these questions. But I’m not Chen Changsheng, so I’m going to stop here.
Why just the focus on Chen Changsheng? Why not talk about other characters?
I totally could talk about other characters in relation to the KonMari method. But since the other characters aren’t protagonists, the readers learn less about them than Chen Changsheng, so readers can’t analyze them as thoroughly.
But what the heck? I’ll also take a quick look at one other character – the little black dragon.
Her vision of an ideal life includes being free (as opposed to being imprisoned, like she is at the beginning of the story). She is also living among humans, because she prefers human company over dragon company. (Why does she prefer human company over dragon company? IIRC, that’s never really explained in the novel, but it’s certainly weird given that she also wants revenge on humans for imprisoning her).
Now let’s look at her stuff:
CLOTHES: She changes back and forth between dragon form and human form, and somehow manages to always be clothed when she appears as a human, so I don’t really understand how she stores clothes, or whether she even owns clothes (as opposed to magically creating/destroying clothes every time she transforms). Joy Check: I guess if she makes her own clothes whenever she transforms, she can always choose clothes which spark joy.
BOOKS: She might have some books, but I doubt she ever reads them. Joy Check: probably only cares about books if they are valuable, in which case having valuable objects probably sparks joy for her.
PAPERS: Probably doesn’t have any.
MISCELLANY: She has a lot of stuff, and particularly likes collecting things made of precious metals, jewels, or other expensive treasure-like items. Joy-check: treasure sparks a lot of joy for her.
SENTIMENTAL: I don’t recall that she has any particularly sentimental item, though Zhou’s Park (which she does not possess) brings out a lot of strong feelings in her because that is where her father was killed. Maybe some of Chen Changsheng’s gifts have sentimental value to her because they were given by him. Joy Check: gifts from Chen Changsheng spark joy for her.
Wait a minute. European dragons are the ones which like to hoard treasure, yet this is a Chinese novel. What gives?
The novel, though written in Chinese, is not set in China, and the dragons combine attributes of both Chinese and European dragons. Like Chinese dragons, they are water creatures, and like European dragons, like they to hoard treasure. That’s one of the defining features of the entire xuanhuan genre – seamlessly merging tropes from both Eastern and Western fantasy.
I thought I could cover my thoughts in just one blog post, but this blog post is already over 1500 words long and I still have more to say, so there is going to be a Part 2.