I buy books, I read books, I hoard books. I like their smell, their feel, their look and the promise of wisdom locked inside. I like new books, in particular, with hard, matte covers and book jackets with pictures of their authors. Paperbacks are second best. But I detest used books; is it the whiff of use and rejection?
Whereas I once mainlined fiction, whiling away countless hours with made-up worlds, I now gravitate to nonfiction and poetry. Regardless of the genre, I keep buying new books, ordering them on line and visiting the campus bookstore nearly every day. Is it because I’m convinced that one of these days I’ll find that perfect book that will help me make sense of the world?
But I’m not doing a good job of reading all these books. I sort of dip in and sample them. I read some of the middle, then the beginning, then the ending then dribs and drabs in the middle. I put them away. I pull them out and start the process again.This isn’t something new, I’ve done this for a long time and I’m not proud of it. I love the idea of books. I like book reviews. I like the thoughts in books. I appreciate the authors’ hard work and effort. But only rarely can I steel myself to distractions and read in the traditional way: starting a book at the beginning and reading the darn thing through til the end. Instead, what I like to do is surround myself with a pile of unread books, maybe in bed. Sometimes I sleep with them, awakened in the middle of the night as one thumps to the floor. There they are: inviting, beckoning, promising. They are teasing me with the promise of a present within.
I have four types of books in my “collection” : recently reviewed novels and mysteries that someone from the N. Y. Times loves and recommends; memoirs and biographies by people who have been through travail and lived to tell the tale; books about “big ideas” like liberty and happiness; and books about writing and words that suggest a disciplined assault on the craft of writing.
Here are some of the books in my current stash:
The Girl Who Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson, The Next 100 Years, by George Friedman, A Year with Rilke by Macy & Barrow, Crafting the Personal Essay, by Dinty Moore, Minding the Body , Mending the Mind by Joan Borysenko, How to Read Literature Like Professor by Thomas Foster, The Three Weissmanns of Westport by Cathleen Schine, Justice by Michael Sandel