Having worked in bookstores and libraries for many years and having loved books for even more years, it was with great delight that I came across an essay Kristy Logan wrote for The Millions about her overflowing collection of unread books. Like Logan, I too am guilty of stockpiling far more books than I will be able to read in any reasonable amount of time. There is something thrilling about browsing little out of the way used bookstores, looking for hidden treasure. Like most book lovers I’ve got my list in hand of hard to find books that I’m hunting for, but the real joy of these visits is the unexpected finds I inevitably come across. On my most recent forays into Evanston and Chicago’s used book emporiums I did not come away with any of the titles from my list, but along the way I discovered a historical account of vampires in colonial New England, a collection of Ogden Nash poetry, and a book of x-rays from the Smithsonian of unusual fish and other deep sea creatures. I would have never thought to look for these books, but once I picked them up I knew that I had to take them home with me.
Will I ever read these books? I certainly hope so, but there are so many other books on my shelves that I plan to read too, and the number of new books coming into my tiny apartment seems to grow by the week. While one side of my brain tells me that my shelves (Who am I kidding? It’s been a long time since the books fit onto shelves!) can’t physically hold any more books, the other side tells me that I can’t possibly live the rest of my life without that book. Whatever knowledge, beauty, or insight that book contains is the one thing I need to live a better, fuller, happier life, or so my brain is shouting at me as I feebly attempt to walk away from the book, all the time casting coy sidelong glances back in its direction. And that is precisely what Logan’s essay explains so well. It is something that I’ve always felt and thought, but was never able to put into words. An unread book holds infinite possibility. Until we crack that spine and find out the truth for ourselves, that book is everything we want it to be in our minds. It holds all kind of rare information and delights, and it is just sitting there waiting to impart it all to us. This can be a very comforting (and addicting) feeling. To be surrounded by a roomful (or buildingful, for those of us who spend much of our time in libraries and bookstores) of books is to feel like you are on a path. You have tangible evidence in front of you of the things you want to learn, the places you want to go, the person you want to be. It is an endless assortment of possible futures laid out in front of you, waiting to be explored.