I recently went through the endeavour of packing all of my possessions. Of all things, putting my books away was the hardest. For life reasons I will be away from them for the near future. Quite the exercise on detachment.
Growing up I was far from a bookworm. In hindsight, I appreciate having teachers who would bait me into finishing a book. But it was not until my early twenties when books suddenly began to gravitate around me. Or as in some copernican twist, I began to gravitate around them.
I think it is futile to look back and single out a book or author that “made it” for me. But I have had some serendipitous encounters which have pushed me in the most unexpected directions. I am eternally grateful for these.
I own and collect more books than I have read. The rate at which this happens very well means that there will be books that I won’t get to read, ever. And that’s ok! I am fond of Umberto Eco’s concept of the “antilibrary”:
[…] a private library is not an ego-boosting appendage but a research tool. Read books are far less valuable than unread ones. The library should contain as much of what you do not know as your financial means, mortgage rates, and the currently tight real-estate market allows you to put there. You will accumulate more knowledge and more books as you grow older, and the growing number of unread books on the shelves will look at you menacingly. Indeed, the more you know, the larger the rows of unread books. Let us call this collection of unread books an antilibrary.
I’m well aware of which books are looking at me menacingly. Some I have dusted off and read when the time was right. Others I picked up and put back several times now (Looking at you, The Brothers Karamazov). Over time, you develop a sense of when you’re ripe for a given book. It is a wonderful sense to have. As if the book suddenly gleams at you.
So don’t feel bad about that one book, just put it back.
Have you ever stumbled upon someone who just happens to have the book that you were searching for, yet you were unfamiliar with? It is magical. However, reciprocity is critical. You must be looking for it. And when it happens; what a gift to give, and what a gift to receive.
Professors, librarians and bookstore clerks are some of these people. But so is anyone. Ask around! Pull threads wherever you find one.
I put up a reading list to create space for serendipity. I enjoy perusing other people’s reading lists (or bookshelves) and striking up a conversation when something clicks. So if you see something here, please reach out!