Tuesday, December 4, 2007

The Middle Shelf

I refuse to collect books.

Seems strange, I know, seeing as I love stories. I write them, I read them, I talk about them and I sometimes dream about them. How then could I refuse to collect them?

Good question.

I refuse to become a book hoarder, an acquisitive bibliophile, a man adrift on seas of paper and ink, because I think it’s antithetical to reading. Most book-lovers don’t. They long to glide with Mark Twain down the mighty Mississippi, to sift murder mysteries with Dorothy Sayers, to plumb the mind of an artificial intelligence with William Gibson. So they buy books. They stack them up. They neglect to dust them. They almost certainly never read them. They become something pagan, as though purchasing them imparted knowledge, like the ancients who thought eating an enemy’s flesh granted one his powers. I knew a pastor who had so many tomes that he set receding bookshelves along one wall in his office three or four stacks deep. Upon entry, goggling visitors would ask, “Have you read all of these?” The pastor would wryly respond, “Some twice.” The visitors didn’t usually get the joke.

So in order to remain a reader and not become a collector, I’ve restricted my collection to a single middle shelf in my bookcase. There are about ten books there right now, books that sparked my imagination or dazzled me with their thematic depth or--in a case or two--brought me to tears. They’re books with creased spines and bent covers, loved things that will likely turn to dust before my interest in them wanes. Don’t be surprised to find a post or two about the middle shelf’s contents.

And please, I urge you, for reading’s sake, get a middle shelf of your own.

(Picture: CC 2006 by hawkexpress)


Amy said...

I support the middle shelf! My problem is that (with the exception of my dog-eared, bent-covered, AUTOGRAPHED copy of Blue Like Jazz), I am a book sharer. It galls me to find out that someone I love hasn't enjoyed one of my middle shelf books. So, my copies are selflessly distributed and then must be replaced with new ones. :)

Loren Eaton said...

Never, ever, ever share. If the book is good enough for someone else to read, it's buy it for him. Honestly, I think I can count on one hand the number of books I've loaned out and gotten back. One person even admitted to me that it was a "nice" way to steal. "But you don't want it back after all this time, right?"

Rage. Building.

Grrrr ...

You're probably a nicer person than I am, anyway.

Ana S. said...

I think I'm going to come here and reads this post whenever I'm tempted to buy yet more books. I didn't use to be a hoarder, but alas, I am one now.

And I've had bad experiences with lending books too *shakes mental fist*

Loren Eaton said...

I'm not so much concerned about the hoarding impulse as the fact that collected books rarely get read. They sit there looking pretty year after year, unmolested and unloved. I cleaned out my father's bookshelf recently and found three copies of the same book. He'd underlined the first couple chapters in each one, put it back on the shelf and never touched it again.

Yes, book lending is a losing enterprise. Thinking of one specific incident (alluded to above) still makes my blood simmer a little.

Anonymous said...

Well, I have a "middle bookcase." Sort of the same thing. Maybe?

Hi! I came over from your Goodreads review of In the Woods, and then saw the comment by Nymeth, so I know I'm in safe(ish) territory! (She & I did the 24-hr-readathon together last October)

Nice blog - I'll be back!

Loren Eaton said...

Middle bookcases are entirely acceptable. Anything that gets people reading books rather that squirreling them away is good, actually. Oh, and we are quite safe over here. In addition to Nymeth keeping me on the up and up, I play well with others and only bite when provoked.