Our books tell all our secrets

They say the first step on the road to recovery is admitting you have a problem. Don’t ask me who “they” are. I don’t know (I actually do now, because I just looked it up). But that’s beside the point, stop trying to get me off topic. We are not talking about the historical development of Bill W and Dr Bob’s twelve-step program (see what I did there? How I threw in what I just learnt? There really is no excuse for ignorance when we have the magic of Google). Side Bar: About a week ago, while sending an email, I typed “google” in a sentence, and Gmail auto-corrected it to “Google” (i.e. with a capital ‘G’), so as an experiment, I typed “god”, and it didn’t auto-correct it to “God”. I find this extremely amusing. Just me? Oh well.

Anyway, what was I saying? Oh yes, I was saying that I have a problem. Namely, that I am easily distracted. This post thus far? Case in point. This has severe implications for most activities in my life. Just 10 minutes ago I was doing reading preparation for the tutorial I am teaching, but now I’m doing this. I know what you’re going to say. It’s not procrastination exactly. I also start making tea and then forget to finish it because I started to watch YouTube, or I let pasta burn because I started to watch a new episode of Glee while I was ‘waiting for it to boil’. I find it hard to concentrate on just one thing.

There is a point to all this rambling. Namely, that yesterday I bought a book. It called out to me from the shelf with its beautiful gold lettering, and its cover was the exact same shade of deep blue as my couch.It made me think of tea and tucking my toes under cushions, and when I picked it up, I found out that the pages smelt the same as Harry Potter. From then my heart was well and truly smote.

Until recently, all my books had been in storage, but I unpacked them the other day and it struck me how many books I have that I have not finished reading, or in many cases have not even started reading. Which leads me to my problem. My problem of being an easily distracted and fickle reader, as well as a compulsive book buyer. It’s not my fault that all the covers look like a special brand of candy.

Nick Hornby, a famous author who I once sat across the room from in London, once said: “All the books we own, both read and unread, are the fullest expression of self we have at our disposal. …But with each passing year, and with each whimsical purchase, our libraries become more and more able to articulate who we are, whether we read the books or not.” This idea is one which I find particularly fascinating, because it would not only be the books that we enjoy reading that are telling about us, but also the books which we want people to think we are reading, or the books that we think we should read in order to become a certain type of person. Moreover, it is not only the content of the book that is telling, but the very fact that we bought it, and whether or not we read it, and where we put it on display afterwards (or perhaps even more interesting- where we hide it, and why).

I’m not sure what the half read pile of books next to my bed says about me. What I do know is that I should definitely not ever buy a Kindle, because I would needlessly download a bazillion books that I will not ever get around to reading.

5 thoughts on “Our books tell all our secrets”

  1. I know what that list says.
    It is an illustration of your process with books. Something like 'Oh, this book is supposed to be great, let me read it *reads* *loses interest* *leaves on bedside table* I'm totally coming back to this one I just can't face it right now'

    I know this because it's how I used to be. I no longer read books people tell me are good.

  2. @Kenni, I agree, I do often choose books based on what people tell me are good, but I'm not sure that that is a bad thing. Ultimately, don't we discover most things that we come to like or love (or hate) through the recommendations of others?

  3. Can't help thinking back to all the time I've spent in artsy book stores fantasising about the perfect coffee table book! Imagine that, designer books! They're like furniture, or decor – an extension of our personalities.

    Oh, wow, and on the other hand, I've definitely hidden books I bought/borrowed in all sorts of places so they won't be found. So strange to consider that those books were parts of me that I didn't want others to know about.

  4. My new year’s resolution is to not buy any new books until I have read the books on my shelf. This is difficult for many reasons, mostly being there are a LOT of books I haven’t read there and also that dastardly compulsion to buy books we share. I am thus boycotting book stores for the sake of my sanity (and bank balance). But I do like what Nick Hornby has to say, and maybe trying to read all the books I buy is a good kind of self-analysis? Good luck with your pile!
    ps Hornby is English – and you should really read his books, he’s very good! 🙂

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