I am a big fan of books, a fact that comes as no surprise to readers of this blog nor anyone who has ever been inside my house and seen my library – a floor-to-ceiling shelved room that technically is supposed to be an extra bedroom. Periodically, like someone determined to lose those last annoying ten pounds, I’ve gone on a book diet, steadfastly staying away from anywhere that I might be tempted to acquire another book to add to my overflowing stash.
Just like other crash diets, my book diets are easily derailed by a pretty cover, a clever title, an innocent recommendation from a friend, or an entertaining back-cover blurb.
I’m okay with that.
When I was a kid, lack of money and opportunity meant that I’d read every book that resided on my bedroom bookshelves. These days . . . not so much.
My library is filled with a variety of books.
- There are books by my favorite authors, which I tend to reread frequently – kind of like comfort food for the mind.
- There are the books recommended by my Oxford tutors – books that we read snippets from during class and I always intended to read in more depth later though later has not yet arrived.
- There are freebie-books, given by friends or picked up at conferences that seemed interesting. They’re books that I’ll theoretically get around to reading at some point, once other, more appealing books, stop usurping their place in my reading queue.
- There are those classics that I feel like I really should read at one point or another, but I need to be in the right frame of mind to buckle down and read them. In the case of War and Peace, which has been waiting patiently on the shelf for years, I’m beginning to wonder if I’m ever going to be in the proper frame of mind to wade through a thousand-or-so pages of story.
- And then there are lots of reference-y type books. Books on all sorts of topics that, at one time or another, caught my fancy. Books on writing, art, the Regency, science, philosophy, and dozens of other topics. The bargains from the remainder tables at Barnes & Noble are responsible for many of these titles. They’re not necessarily the kind of books one sits down and reads cover-to-cover but, should I wake up one morning with an urge to learn about Postmodern Philosophers, I’ve got a book for that.
I was feeling a bit guilty about all of the unread books I own until I saw this essay in The New York Times a few days ago, talking about the accumulation of books. First, I was delighted to find that that there is a Japanese word for a stack of books that you have purchased but not read – tsundoku. More importantly, the article provided an excellent
justification explanation for my ever-increasing library:
The man with an ever-expanding library understands the importance of remaining curious, open to new ideas and voices.
There you go – it’s curiosity, not rampant acquisitiveness that has my shelves overflowing. I think the closing lines of the essay summed things up very nicely:
The sight of a book you’ve read can remind you of the many things you’ve already learned. The sight of a book you haven’t read can remind you that there are many things you’ve yet to learn. And the sight of a partially read book can remind you that reading is an activity that you hope never to come to the end of.
So, what do your bookshelves (physical or electronic) look like? Do you have an accumulation of unread titles or are you more of a buy-it-and-read-it type?