Literary Resolutions

To move is to realize how quietly my wife and I accumulate things. A bedframe, a new book, a movie, clothes, chairs, mugs. Things pile up, and we thin them out, getting rid of what we think we no longer need. The rare person gets so disgusted with the objects she’s attached herself to that she sells or trashes nearly everything. I’m not there yet, but after the fifth trip to Goodwill I began reconsidering my motives.
Organizing my bookshelves brings me peace. Ordered according to influence, grandeur and height, I have developed a system that pleases me, and the process of buying a new book is one of assimilation. To add to the library is to negotiate relationships between works while navigating limited space.
“We represent him,” I imagine the older books whispering to the new additions late at night, when the house is quiet. “Every beautiful story or verse he has ever read.” Some of the oldest books cough at this, their pages worn, their spines creased. “Some of us have been with him the longest,” they say. “If you look closely, you can still our imprint below everything else. Much-faded perhaps, but still there.”
I recently taught Mortimer Adler’s excellent piece, “How to Mark a Book,” where he writes that the book owner who loves books has “a few books or many–everyone of them dog-eared and dilapidated, shaken and loosened by continual use, marked and scribbled in from front to back.”
Once I lent an unread book to a friend, and she looked at it, amazed.
“Have you even read this?”
I hadn’t. Like most collectors, there are a number of books on my shelves I haven’t read, but now that they’re in boxes I have come to a decision: these books must be read! I’ve started with the monster of them all, Bleak House, which is excellent in scope and imagination, and I don’t intend to stop (or buy any new books if I can help it) until I finish reading all of them, from The Picture of Dorian Gray to Against the Day.

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