A Reader’s Library

Anybody with a sizeable collection of books has had the experience of some twit of a non-reader looking over the collection with no real discernment and wondering if the owner has read them all. The tone–or something about the way–in which the question is expressed seems to imply that the best answers would be either a Yes or an Almost.

Of course, that isn’t the answer they get, at least not from this reader. They get a No. One doesn’t acquire all one’s books with a view to reading them in the immediate future: that isn’t the way things are done. It isn’t the way things are done because all books are not read the same way. Certainly some are read immediately, especially if you’re the kind of reader who never has and never will use lists to read by. But some are acquired with a view to filling up a spot in a life that would drag on tediously should one ever run out of things to read, say a year from the day, or five, ten or twenty. And yes, there are people who worry about running out of good books to read and tend to hoard.

It does puzzle me to know there are people who read by lists, because I do not find that I understand when I read strictly under compulsion. I read well when I am interested, but not so well when I am compelled. And I have, somewhere, a quotation from Dr. Johnson corroborating the general idea too.

To what is this due, this triumph of desire over duty? One doesn’t read all books similarly, for one; and for another, there are seasons to reading. The true, hard-core, binge-reading reader is not a person with a simple insatiable desire for books of any sort whatever. Is the true, hard-core, binge-eating eater a person who shoves food down his throat indiscriminately, or does said person sometimes crave chicken, sometimes pizza and chips, from time to time a vegetable? I think it must be the latter. I think a person for whom eating is a true pleasure, to relinquish some of the exaggeration, has seasons to his eating, he enjoys things severally and in variety: today an omelet, tomorrow a potato. Would one not be surprised if said person’s refrigerator were on the whole kept always empty?

Which is why an avid reader has a sizeable collection of books on hand, many of which are unread and must remain so for years; various: for the various seasons of desire, for the various ways of reading, for savoring for the first time or reading again after a sufficient pause.

Note on something else that occurred to me: it ought to be considered that I am not speaking of the personal library of one who does research which must sometimes grow exponentially. When the non-reading twit comments on such a library in such obtuse insinuations it is also impertinent because he is telling someone who knows how to do what he does what to do. That is the philistine streak, I’m afraid.


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