On the shame of unread books

This guy finds the trend of surrounding yourself with books you haven’t read shameful. He feels fraudulent because he hasn’t read everything he owns. I find it comforting to have not read everything. Pure potential. It’s like my decorations are things that I can engage with at any second. Will I eventually read them? Probably not. Not all, anyway. I have too many other obligations: friends and colleagues to read, my own interests and predilections to indulge in, life in a post-apocalyptic wasteland to run around in on my computer. But those books are THERE, regardless. Ready. Waiting for me to need them. Or to get bored and start browsing. Snowstorm? Books by the fire. Broken leg? Books by the fire. Power outage? Books by the fire. The point is, they’re readable, not that they’re read. It’s a very reliable medium. All I have to do is keep my eyesight. Still, I could spend some more time on it, couldn’t I?

It is nice to have a wall full of books. Being signallers of great intellectual virtue, bookshelves are enjoying their moment in the sun, choicely lit in the background of a thousand Zoom interviews on TV. The sight of my shelves gives me limited pleasure, as I am reproached by the spines of so many books I have never actually, you know, read. It’s cheating, that’s what it is. You should only be allowed to display books you have finished, or at least got more than halfway through. Watching some opining clever dick on a news channel, with hundreds upon hundreds of weighty tomes displayed behind them, I find it impossible to concentrate on anything this intellectual fraud is saying. “You can’t have read them all!” I yell, throwing one of my own unread Grantas at the screen. “You haven’t been alive long enough to have read them all.”

Over the weekend, I met a nice guy at whom I couldn’t throw any paperbacks for this crime because he has done a deal with himself to get through all his unread books before he buys any more. J

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