Ah…. Books. An entirely different matter from reading. Books are entities; books have a presence of their own beyond the words and the worlds contained within their pages. Books are things of beauty. At least that’s how it is for me.
First, there’s the acquisition: new, secondhand, borrowed, digital, first edition, audio, illustrated, gifted, bequeathed, found on a park bench…
Then the placing on the shelves.
Or in the pile. The organizing.
And then the re-organizing.
Collections…. By author, by series, by publisher, by colour…
And the lists, oh, the lists! And resolutions, decisions, challenges – what to read this year, this month, this week? So many permutations, so many options. The potential for hours of pointless pleasurable musing and meddling and still not a word read.
There is also the CULL – a desperate state of mind which comes over me once in a while. I feel about books as Fagin probably felt about his secret stash of stolen trinkets: I pour over them; fawn over them. Count them, flick through their pages, caress their covers…
Or perhaps I’m more like Gollum…
No. I haven’t noticed myself whispering to them.
At the time of writing, I have been culling: a harrowing experience. I write the word in hushed tones with furtive glances over my shoulder. That’s what has sparked this post; I need soothing. I’m not sure how I’ll feel when I next look at the ravished shelves. And until the boxes physically leave my possession there is always the possibility that I’ll weaken and the shelves will be bulging once more with books I don’t plan to read again and to which I have no specific emotional attachment beyond the fact that they are – well – Books. That’s enough unto itself, surely?
I have also been sorting: all the unread books are now collected together on their own shelf shelves. There are quite a few. I’ve resisted counting them. So far.
And I am sorting my lists of books “To – Be – Read”. Yes, I have several lists, and that’s without all the samples sitting on my virtual shelves on my Kindle, and the titles ‘saved for later’ gathering virtual dust in my virtual shopping basket. The main list grew so long and so unwieldy that I thought it might be easier to split it into something more manageable. It’s now an Excel document with many pages: covering genres, themes, authors or anything else that takes my fancy. I haven’t counted how many titles are on these pages; that would be terrifying. I no longer think of them as ‘to be reads’: they are merely suggestions, recommendations from which I might choose when I’m ready. Helpful; friendly. Benign. My own virtual bookshop that I can dip into whenever I wish. And a literary stress ball: I tweak it regularly and feel calm…
I generally read between 40 and 50 books a year. At that rate, I shall need several reincarnations before I start to make an impression on these tomes-in-waiting. But – nothing ventured and all that. I haven’t set any targets for the year beyond avoiding spontaneous book-buying splurges and trying to read a reasonable number of those I already own. I shall only buy a book if I intend to read it immediately and I’ll hold myself accountable to that at the end of the year. Unless of course, I come across a serious bargain – and it’s a book that I know I shall read eventually. Or a book that forms part of a collection. Which brings to mind the question: how many books on the Virago Modern Classics list these days? I have about twenty; are there many more to find? No need to answer that; I know I have plenty of scope for unscheduled book buying should I stumble across a VMC from the early editions.
I also need to purge myself of another list – one which throws me baleful stares on a regular basis. This is the list of books that I’ve read and tell myself I shall write about – which also manifests as a pile of books with luminous stickers protruding from various pages. Sometimes I feel like covering this pile with a cloth, or shoving the whole into a cupboard. But then, I’m currently clearing out cupboards, not squeezing things in.
I can’t think of myself as reviewing books: I don’t have the inclination to produce an adequate summary of the story. And it’s generally already been done – much more effectively than if I attempted it.
But I do like writing about books, as much as I enjoy reading about them – and indeed, actually reading them. So I shall make more effort this year. I’ll manage the occasional single book post but I’m envisioning some groupings: 2 or 3 books at a time which share some commonalities. Though it does put me in mind of school essays: Compare and Contrast….
I now realise I am writing about writing about reading. Time to stop.
But composing this rather pointless piece has given me the opportunity to browse Pinterest for gorgeous pictures of dusty old tomes – a fine pastime on this cold February afternoon. And it makes me feel a little better about my boxes of paperbacks, boxed up and destined for the charity shop…