My father and I went to the library book sale yesterday, which in retrospect may’ve been a mistake. While I had a pleasant morning chatting with my father, when I arrived home my husband took one looked at the bulging bags, sighed, and said, “I’ll call the office and get the paperwork started for the apartment where you’re going to store all these.” I had bought twenty-three books. However, considering that day before, I had gone to a local bookstore and bought three, it might be safe to say that I have a problem.
At this point in my life, I probably have a large enough collection of books that I’m never going to read them all. If I were to stop buying, I would probably get through what I currently own in five to ten years, but, lets face it, I’m never going to stop buying books.
No doubt I’ll certainly read a large number of these books, even reread some, but a few (or a lot) will sit unread simply because there was always another book I was more interested in. I look at volumes like Flatland, Innocents Abroad, or Critique of Pure Reason, and say “One day, little darlings, I’ll read you.” Which is probably lie. (I’ll confess neither I nor the Critique of Pure Reason believe that I’ll ever get around to reading it, and we certainly are not on such informal terms.)
Of course, there are the times that I will be looking at my shelves, see a book, and think, “I should really finish that, one of these days. Not today though.” Some, like An American Tragedy or Le Morte d’Arthur, were started for a class, but I just didn’t have enough time to finish them. I hold on to them out of a sense duty.
The books that I feel guilty about not finishing are the ones where it physically hurt to read. Not because they were bad, but because I was so worried about the protagonist. I have never finished a Thomas Hardy novel. I made it a quarter of the way into to Tess of d’Urbervilles before I just shut the book so nothing else would happen to that poor girl. I made it further into A Laodicean then the protagonist stepped up to roulette table, since I just read Dostoevsky’s The Gambler I knew that this was not going end well. Hell, I only made it sixteen pages into Jude the Obscure before I gave up. Similarly, most of Dickens’ novels I pick up then put down. Yes, I know that Oliver Twist will be rescued at the end, but for some reason I don’t want to see all the crap that he’ll have to go through to get that happy ending.
Before you advise me not to read such depressing or dark literature, I want to point out I love dark literature. I don’t think it’s the “depressing” events that make these novels painful for me to read, after all some of my favorite books, like The Shawl and The Cancer Ward, deal with the very darkest events of human history. Maybe it’s the combination of misery and the 19th Century prose style that I can’t get through.
In the end, when I survey my overstuffed shelves filled with books that I have complex relationships with—even I have to admit, I may have a problem.