Of Books on the Shelf

For there are, it seems, people who feel stress about owning volumes they haven’t read. Evidently some of them believe a kind of statute of limitations is in effect. If you don’t expect to read something in, say, the next year, then, it is wrong to own it. And in many cases, their superegos have taken on the qualities of a really stern accountant – coming up with estimates of what percentage of the books on their shelves they have, or haven’t, gotten around to reading. Guilt and anxiety reinforce one another.

Who me?

At Inside Higher Ed, Scott McLemee considers some of the online kerfuffle over books on the shelf (link from Bookslut), and offers a kinder, yet still literary, alternative:

If you are going to have a moralizing voice in your head, maybe it’s best for it to sound like Francis Bacon….“Some books are to be tasted,” writes Bacon, “others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested; that is, some books are to be read only in parts; others to be read, but not curiously; and some few to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention.”

And ultimately, of course:

It is, finally, a matter of taste.

11 Responses to “Of Books on the Shelf”

  1. Elle Says:

    HAve you ever read Calvino’s If on a Winter Night a Traveller? The first chapter had a wonderful description of how a reader sees successive shelves of unread books in a bookshop. I think the Amazon excerpt is exactly this bit. I think you’d like it!

  2. pussreboots Says:

    Thank you for stopping by my blog. I have about a three year “TBR” shelf in my collection.

  3. scb Says:

    Over the years, I have often bought books that just get set on the shelf and not read… until one day it turns out that’s just the right book for that moment, and I’m so glad it’s there waiting for me!

    Unread books on a shelf are a treasure-trove, a priceless resource (especially with the speed at which books go out of print these days).

  4. girldetective Says:

    Elle, I have had Calvino’s book on my shelf for over ten years! I bought it because one of the volumes(World’s End, I think) in Neil Gaiman’s The Ssndman graphic novel series referenced it. I think it’s past time I read it, and I hope to get to it very soon. Thanks for the additional reminder!

    Pussreboots, you can see that my TBR shelf is much older than yours. And I am going to be very glad when I do finally pull it off the shelf, scb!

  5. pussreboots Says:

    Ah… **blush** I misunderstood. I thought you were asking about books on the shelf versus rate of reading. At my current rate of reading I could clear my backlog in 3 years if I don’t buy any more (not likely!). If you look at how long I’ve actually had some of the books in my backlog, then yeah, I have some that are 20 years old.

  6. girldetective Says:

    The only reason my shelf has books from only about a dozen years ago is that I did some serious purging when I moved from Philly to MN, and continued to do so here because of limited shelf space. I think if I bought a new bookcase, I’d have to fill it and then immediately buy another, since I’ve got them stacked all over.

  7. pussreboots Says:

    For the last couple of years I’ve been averaging a book a day. My current backlog is about 1000 books (sigh!). So it comes out roughly 3 years to read through my backlog assuming I don’t bring home any new books. Unfortunately I’m not that good at not brining home books.

    I participate in BookCrossing so I release books as I read them. Ideally I’d like to release more books than I bring in but so far I’m up 30 books from what I’ve released. I’m such a book nerd that I have a sql based database of all my book activity.

  8. pussreboots Says:

    My normal rate used to be one or two books a week. Last year I challenged myself to read a book a day just to see if I could do it. Now after a year of doing it, it just seems natural.

    In previous years I’ve read as few as 20. I’ll probably have years like that in the future.

  9. girldetective Says:

    I figure if I ever get around to Neal Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle trilogy, that might make a severe dent in books read. He’s coming out with a new, 900+ page book called Anathem, soon. One would think he got paid by the word, like Dickens.

  10. weirleader Says:

    Have you, by chance, read Cryptonomicon? I’ve tried working on his Baroque Cycle, but got mired less-than-halfway through the first volume. It really feels like a grind for some reason. Whereas Cryptonomicon just flew by… although perhaps that’s because I’m a math-guy and really enjoyed the crypto and computer parts.

    Quicksilver (Baroque vol. 1) has some interesting history, but reads more like history and less like fiction.

    Now Snow Crash was good - odd, but good. Where else can you read about a samurai-sword-wielding pizza-delivery-guy named Hiro Protagonist? :-)

    (PS - don’t know what’s up with all the hyphens, must be in a hyphenating mood)

  11. girldetective Says:

    I loved Cryptonomicon, even though I’m not a math and crypto person. I devoured it in just 9 days, I think. I started Quicksilver, though didn’t get through. We have two copies of it–the HC and the TPB, and have strongly considered getting the set of three MMPBs, too. I really enjoyed Snow Crash, and have been thinking of it lately–the character who has “poor impulse control” tattooed on his forehead. But I loved Diamond Age most (minus the ending–those aren’t NS’s strong point) because it was about girls and literature and learning.