Tuesday, March 9, 2021

"A Blind Dog in a Meat House," or: Bibliophilia and Difficult Decisions

The philosopher Erasmus if often quoted as having said, "When I get a little money I buy books; and if any is left, I buy food and clothes." Though my personal library includes over 300 e-books and over 700 physical books, I have managed to not wind up starving and half-naked.

It seems like I've been eating books as long as I've been eating food. But it was not until I was in high school that I started tracking books I've read. March 8 of this year marked the fiftieth anniversary of keeping a record of the books I have "eaten." This record clearly shows a case of bibliophilia, if not bibliomania. I inherited the genetic predisposition for this, as did our daughter Kendra.

Decisions, decisions ...

Choosing a major in college wasn't easy. I was interested in too many things. Likewise, my interest in books is broad (despite my father's early criticism for reading too much sci-fi and fantasy as a teenager, something for which he apologized many years later). I walk into a bookstore, or log on to Amazon, and I feel like the proverbial "blind dog in a meat house." Everything looks interesting. What is a bibliomaniac to do?

1. I can't afford to buy every book I want to read. (Frequenting library book-sales and second-hand stores helps, but see #3 and #4 below.)

2. I can't always find the books I want at the library, and when I do, I can't always read them before they're due back, because I multitask my reading, reading a handful of books in parallel. (My wife: "How can you keep them all straight?" Me: "It's no different than watching several TV shows at the same time.")

3. I don't have infinite space to shelve every physical book I purchase. (But e-books are easy to forget about, lost in cyberspace.)

4. I don't have the time and energy to read every book I'd like to.

Prioritization sucks.

So many books, so little time ...

Fifty years into tracking my reading, I see how very difficult it would be to summarize the thousands of books I've read.* I've read non-fiction and fiction of virtually every genre (though I'm not sure I've read a romance novel yet - unless The Bridges of Madison County qualifies).  I've read infamously long books as well as short books that are hardly more than a literary swallow for someone who eats books.  There are few books I've reread, primarily because there are always so many other books waiting to be read I can't spare the time on rereading.  There are books that I'm happy to talk about with other people, and books that are so personal to me I can't comfortably talk about them.

And yet, I can't be sated. I'm still hungry for more books. That's why I wind up buying books faster than I can read them. It's a sickness!

I've begun to worry a bit, now that I'm older, how many more books I can read before I die. Under certain assumptions, I may finish another thousand books before my time comes. I don't mean to be morbid. My problem is, I'm rapidly approaching the point when I will have more physical and electronic books in my collection than I can possibly finish. As my mother would say, "Horrors!"

If anyone knows a creative solution to these challenges, please share it!

And finally, we all should remember ...

"We're all what we read to a very considerable degree." **

* If you are interested in seeing my list, you can find it on my Goodreads account.
** David McCullough, "The Love of Learning," an address to the Boston College graduating class of 2008. In: McCullough, David. The American Spirit: Who We Are and What We Stand For.

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