…Some books begin softly, with the paddle of assurance, like slipping into a warm lake at the edge of dark. Other books do not begin that way. They begin un-calmly, with threats, warnings, rumors of distant war.
We all have books. I have a book sitting by me as I write this. It is, let me check, If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler. I’ve barely read it. It stares balefully at me.
And so, what are we to do about books — about unread books, about books piling up in the corner of our bedroom? It is a difficult question. I have all these books to read, but I procrastinate, keep on re-reading the same books, and what is to be done about that? You think that you are re-reading books, but really, they are re-reading you.
Because books are objects, is the thing, but they are also alive. …I have a problem with objects, I realize, as I get older, and so maybe that is part of the problem that I am having with books these days. I maybe shouldn’t say I have a problem with objects; rather I should say I have a hindrance, a difficulty.
As I get older, and more clumsy, it more and more seems that objects have it in for me, have something personal against me. What is it with you, objects? The corner of the railing that catches and rips my coat, just as I am rushing off for work. The shoe heel that breaks right before that all-important job interview. The favorite jeans that shred, revealing an embarrassing pale slice of knee; favorite jeans no more. The food. The pancakes. I eat the same amount of pancakes as I always did, but now, this same amount of pancakes makes me fat. What is it with you, pancakes. Why do you hate me, shoe? Why do you hate me, jeans?
Books are objects — and though they inhabit our dreams, populate our dreams, we should also still remember that they are still just objects. And objects have it in for us; or at least, they have it in for me. The car that breaks down. The socks that disappear in the dryer. …I am writing this to make as little sense to you as it possibly can. …Objects keep slipping away from me. Where is my watch? Where are those socks? Where is that beloved pair of boxer shorts, the one with the checkered pattern? They are lost. …Objects don’t just hate me, they want to abandon me.
…And so it is with books, with me and books. Daily, they pile up, and daily, they will go unread. Sorry, Marcus Aurelius. Sorry, Charles Dickens. Sorry, Dostoevsky! But by now, these books must hate me too. …These amazing or un-amazing worlds that I will never read, will never get around to reading. These unread books must by now look down on me; must quietly disdain me. …And so, I worry some nights that they will abandon me; that they will softly slip away from me, mildly slipping off the shelves, meaning no exact ill-intent, but still quietly slipping off the shelves, craftily sneaking through the open crack in my door, and then heading on down the road, tottering down the street — searching for a better, more appropriate home.
image – U.S. National Archives