Giving Over to the Reader in You

There are tons of book people, and we have different reading habits, prefer different types of books and reading locations and formats, have diverse ways of organizing our books, and differently prioritize the way we live our love of books (some are collectors before readers, for instance, but are still readers). However, one thing I’ve found is that for the most part, we harbour not only a love of books and reading but also a weakness for accumulating more than we can read. And we often see this as a bad thing.

This morning, I read a post by Pasha Malla called “Bookshopping.” In it, he talked about how he felt on walking into a bookstore, overwhelmed by the number of books, sad that so many would likely not be touched (“all those spirits and lives sunk into unending shelves of ignored words”), feeling as a writer a futility, then, in what he was contributing.

Because we love books (reading, buying, writing them), none of us wants to become depressed when we walk into a bookshop. For a different perspective, Malla turned to Borges, who wrote:

Sometimes, looking at the many books I have at home, I feel I shall die before I come to the end of them, yet I cannot resist the temptation of buying new books. Whenever I walk into a bookstore and find a book on one of my hobbies—for example, Old English or Old Norse poetry—I say to myself, “What a pity I can’t buy that book, for I already have a copy at home.”

How many of us could have written the same thing!

And I think, This is where I find the beauty in reading but also in owning far more books than I’ve read: the number I have, or the number I’m confronted with in a store, signifies abundance and flexibility and diversity. For which we’re fantastically lucky, really. I have the gift of being able to walk to my own shelves or the shelves in a shop and pick what I like depending on what attracts me right then. I don’t see all the books as languishing. I see them as potential.

Of course anyone who truly loves books buys more of them than he or she can hope to read in one fleeting lifetime. A good book, resting unopened in its slot on a shelf, full of majestic potentiality, is the most comforting sort of intellectual wallpaper. — David Quaimen

When faced with abundance, we often cower — an inappropriate response in many cases, when you think about it. But abundance wasn’t only what Pasha was talking about; as an author, he was feeling sensitive to all those labours of love on the shelf, perhaps never to be touched. It is sad if we look at it that way. How do we make ourselves feel better about that while not buying up every copy in the store? We simply keep doing what we love, buying and reading what interests us. Most important, we understand our bookbuying and reading selves as absolutely essential, and not only to keep alive the industry that keeps our passion sated.

In the end, Pasha concludes: “Each of those books that appears so ignored, really, only needs one human being to ignite its potential, to breathe life into it, to rescue it from the dead heap of remainderdom.” As Borges wrote,

A book is a physical object in a world of physical objects. It is a set of dead symbols. And then the right reader comes along, and the words—or rather the poetry behind the words, for the words themselves are mere symbols—spring to life, and we have a resurrection of the word.

It’s exciting, isn’t it?

13 comments

    1. :) Yet I can’t read like that. It’s so hard for me to devour books the way I used to when I was a kid. I read so much more slowly these days. Because of time constraints but also because I read differently, more analytically, I guess. I also tend to read lit fic mostly, and I don’t find myself tearing through those. Well, with the exception of some. I finished Alix Ohlin’s collection of stories this morning, and after reading for only a day and a half! That’s short for me. YA I do pretty fast, too.

  1. “Sometimes, looking at the many books I have at home, I feel I shall die before I come to the end of them, yet I cannot resist the temptation of buying new books.”

    This is me to a giant T. ;)

    “Of course anyone who truly loves books buys more of them than he or she can hope to read in one fleeting lifetime. A good book, resting unopened in its slot on a shelf, full of majestic potentiality, is the most comforting sort of intellectual wallpaper.”

    And this sums it up perfectly! Exactly the way I feel!

    You know what else (to add to your last paragraph)? I never feel bad about buying books even knowing it’ll be ages before I can read them, because unless they become big sellers they’re hard to find later on. It might take ten years but sadly, they disappear – I love that I have a copy, the physical evidence of someone’s dream realised. :)

    1. Oh, yes!! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve passed up buying a book and it’s no longer available, not even on abebooks.com. :( Talk about regret. You have an excellent point.

  2. The quotes here are amazing. I think owning more books than we can realistically hope to read in any period of time is a blessing – the possibilities are so endless! I could read anything without leaving my house! :)

  3. As Jen said, this post makes me very happy.

    I need to be reminded that owning a wealth of unread books is a blessing instead of something that should make you feel guilty or stress you out. Thanks for that.

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