A number of people have linked to Scott McLemee’s interesting article on bookshelves and what they say about us. McLemee writes:
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.
Ah, if only it were easy to be sensible and avoid this cycle of guilt and anxiety. I’m not proud of it, but I do feel stress about owning volumes I haven’t read. I would prefer not to feel this stress, I think it makes more sense not to feel it, it’s much more sophisticated and intelligent not to feel it. But what can I do? Those books sometimes feel like a burden, and I don’t even own a lot of unread books compared to some other bloggers out there.
But for most of my life I’ve bought books in order to read them right away; I would buy them with the intention of heading home that very evening to read them — or rather, I should say I would buy a book with the intention of heading home that evening to read it, singular. So my newly-developed habit of buying books, sometimes stacks of books, with the intention of reading them at some point in the near but unspecified future doesn’t yet feel right to me.
Of course I could go back to my old habits and slowly work my way through the books I’ve already accumulated until the stack is gone, but then I wouldn’t be able to buy those stacks of books. No more library sales for me, no snatching books from used bookstore shelves whenever they look appealing, no more impulse orders from Amazon, etc.
So, I’ll simply have to find a way to deal with my guilt, or to magically make it go away. Any advice on how to deal with my stupid “stern accountant” superego that feels owning unread books is wasteful and wrong?