“You ordered more books?”
So asked my wife when the package from Amazon hit the doorstep on Saturday. My response: “Indeed, I did.” In the box were three titles I’m very much looking forward to reading once I’m done with my current manuscript: Skeletons on the Zahara by Dean King, The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey by Candice Millard, and A Daughter’s Tale: The Memoir of Winston Churchill’s Youngest Child by Mary Soames.
Admittedly, I do have more than a few books in my library I purchased a while back and have not yet read—but that doesn’t stop me from ordering other books I want. My wife, bless her, doesn’t understand this. Surely, she muses, I should read every book I have before adding to my already considerable collection. “Nonsense,” I say.
I love being surrounded by books. I love pulling a random title from one of my bookshelves and flipping through its pages. I love the weight of a book in my hand and the sound of a page turning—none of which you can enjoy on your Kindle or Nook. Old books have a certain scent—a blending of dust and age—that I find strangely pleasing.
This evening, I pulled a copy of Winston Churchill’s Thoughts and Adventures from my shelf. It’s a 1949 reprint that belonged to my grandfather. The book is a collection of newspaper and magazine articles Churchill published between 1924 and 1931. One essay, titled “Hobbies,” tackles the very subject of having more books than one can possibly read. I feel obliged to share Mr. Churchill’s take on the matter with you now:
‘What shall I do with all my books?’ was the question; and the answer, ‘Read them,’ sobered the questioner. But if you cannot read them, at any rate handle them and, as it were, fondle them. Peer into them. Let them fall open where they will. Read on from the first sentence that arrests the eye. Then turn to another. Make a voyage of discovery, taking sounds of unchartered seas. Set them back on their shelves with your own hands. Arrange them on your own plan, so that if you do not know what is in them, you at least know where they are. If they cannot be your friends, let them at any rate be your acquaintances. If they cannot enter the circle of your life, do not deny them at least a nod of recognition.
Churchill acknowledges we will never read all the books we want to:
Think of all the wonderful tales that have been told, and well told, which you will never know. Think of all the searching inquiries into matters of great consequence which you will never pursue. Think of all the delighting or disturbing ideas that you will never share. Think of the mighty labours which have been accomplished for your service, but of which you will never reap the harvest. But from this melancholy there also comes a calm. The bitter sweets of a pious despair melt into an agreeable sense of compulsory resignation from which we return with renewed zest to the light vanities of life.
And so forgive me for being a book hoarder.