Thursday, January 06, 2011

Too many books

NOTE: The following reflections are not intended to criticize or question anyone else’s reading or book habits. They are based on my particular experience.

I have been going through the boxes of books that have been stored in the garage, trying to decide what to do with them—which would be the most useful ones to keep and which ones should I sell. Not knowing the best way to dispose of them (it is a buyer’s market right now), I have been entering the books on LibraryThing so that I have a more efficient way of organizing them even when they are packed away.

Flashbacks: the latest literary novels given as gifts by a former boss during my corporate-world days; novels from college literature classes; a book purchased from the college bookstore after scanning the books for literature courses not taken; Dorothy Sayers’ mysteries purchased from a used book store (just one example of so many random used bookstore book purchases); books familiar by their cover even if never read; books representing many different stages of life, journeys started but not finished (e.g., doctorate in Old Testament/Hebrew Bible).

So many books to be organized and dealt with. (The boxes are in addition to the books in the house.) They represent hours and days of time spent reading, thousands upon thousands of dollars spent buying, if added up over time. Most of the books have been read only once, quickly—no notes taken, no discussion with another; no written review, no serious critique.

And what about all those books I have already gotten rid of or returned to the library? Are the number of books I’ve accumulated and the amount of reading I have done worth it? In many ways, for me, I think not.

Too often, books have been an escape, a method to numb mind and emotions, a vicarious way of experiencing life, a settling for reading/thinking about something rather than going through the halting, difficult steps of doing something—whether learning a new skill or language; taking time to be with or write/talk to friends; untangling the mysterious puzzle of being a human—a woman; thinking through and solving problems.

I have been very tempted by all the book blogs now online. There is something extremely alluring about lists and lists of books. Now, it is easier than ever just to read about reading and not even read the actual books. And, now you don’t have to go to actual bookstores or a library to spend hours lost in browsing titles—just click through the hundreds of books on Amazon’s recommendation list.

I worry about the ways reading can negatively shape character and personality, affect productivity, and inform life decisions—and how one can be oblivious of (or at least rationalize mightily about) the effects of reading, until confronted by an insightful other.

Then, the work of "regaining our illiteracy" can begin. (From a chapter title in Knitting for Anarchists by Anna Zilboorg.)

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