Friday, 28 January 2011

Books as Insulation

I collect the books I like. Not in a serious way, not in a series way, but I still collect them. All well and good, you say, but I'm starting to ask why? What for? I have some 400 books in my room, all read, alphabetical by author, chronological within author. Fiction Non-Fiction Biography Entertainment. Yeah. Why?

Well... I like doing it. Maybe that's it. I like collecting things. I especially like putting things into alphabetical order by author, and chronological within author. But if it's as unpragmatic as that, it's a very expensive past time.

Maybe it's because I love to lend books. At least, I've always assumed I do, but it's never really come up. In recent months, I have been asked for a good book to read, and have leant out half a dozen excellent novels. What really struck me about that process, pleasant though it was, was how bloody difficult it can be. Reading -- even to a book-blogger -- is a very private thing. How do I know what this guy will like? Or how this girl will react to that author?

Maybe a better tactic is to lend them to myself. Keeping the books I love, clearly, offers the possibility of re-reads. I now have a personal library selected by the only person who's taste I really trust; it sounds great, but in reality I never do it. I've re-read Watership Down about 5 times; all of Pratchett at least twice; and Harry Potter. All of which re-reading took place years ago.

I have favourite books -- The Great Gatsby, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, Wittgenstein's Mistress, Bluebeard -- that I've only read once. It's a travesty.

I think -- I have to think -- the point of my shelves and shelves of books is to be re-read, by me, someday. Lending is good, collecting is fun, and they probably do keep my room fairly warm; but they exist for my own future, repeated pleasure.

The problem with that is, where do you find the time? There's also thousands of unread books out there, vying for my reading hours. It's a delicate equation that I have yet to balance. Do you re-read? How often? Or do you give your books away once you get to The End?


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  2. I reread series books just before the newest book comes out.

    Otherwise I've only ever reread when my lit books conincided with something I've already read.

    For some reason a book hardly ever attracts me for a second reason.

    Maybe because I tend to remember 90% of the fiction I've ever read.

    Strange, but true. Even my mother think I'm a freak.


  3. I do re-read. And I have hundreds of books on my TBR list, so I probably shouldn't. When do I reread? Sometimes, when I feel like I'm floundering, unsure of what I'm doing or where I'm going in life, I pick up Stanley Kunitz's Collected Poems. When it's a lazy Sunday and I'm not in the mood to concentrate on a new novel, I pick up one of my old faves: Gone with the Wind, The Great Gatsby, The Moon and Sixpence. During the fall season, I tend to reread Dracula or The Historian, which always give me the creeps. Sometimes, when I fall into a funk I can't seem to pull myself out of, I go back to Fitzgerald's The Crack-Up and I slowly, but surely come back to the land of the living. It's ok to reread. There are some books, much like our closest friends, that remind of us of who we are. And that's what's so lovely about them.

  4. I've seen a few people ask this question and I seem to be in the minority but I have a tendency to re-read a lot. Sometimes it's because I'm running out the door and need a book and I don't have anything new to read. Sometimes it's because I want to read something I know I'm going to enjoy.

    I'm trying to re-read a little less but I'm not against it. It's just what I'm in the mood for at that exact moment. And I have less of a problem stopping a re-read in the middle if something new comes along.

  5. I'm a book collector too. I even keep the mediocre ones, I only take books to the book exchange if I really hate them. I've come to the conclusion that I'll never re-read all of them, but I just like having them for all kinds of reasons unrelated to reading. I like the way they look, and the way they remind me of where I bought them, who recommended them etc. There are some that I re-read, at least once a year, and are usually good escapist stuff, like the Harry Potter series, but there's just so many new books I want to read more than re-read my old ones.

  6. I hear you on the book-collecting thing. I just cant seem to keep myself from buying new ones and keeping old ones. It's not a very practical habit, especially for a person who moves around quite a bit. I can't really explain why I keep them. I don't do too many rereads - there are just too many unread books waiting for me. I do like loaning books out, but I don't do it too often. I suppose it's just a compulsion and, compared with other addictions, a fairly harmless one. Good post!

  7. If you visit my site and my About Me page, you'll see evidence of my book collecting problem:-D

    New follower!
    Have a great weekend!

  8. I like to keep the books that I've read so I can remember that I've read them. Seriously. Although, this is less of a problem now that I've started my blog.

    I also took a lot of notes in a lot of books throughout my years in school and I like to keep my annotated copies.

    I don't reread much, although I do reread things if I'm thinking about teaching them, and I like to let them hang around in case I ever go back to school and need to read them again.

  9. The book I’m most expecting in 2011 is by an author I crossed off my “Favorite author” list.

    He’s back on that list now.

    Who’s the author? Raymond Feist? What’s the book? A Kindgom Besieged.

    Hop on over to my website to read all about it –

    Howard A. Sherman, Implementor
    Get Inside a Story

  10. I collect, reread and obsessively hoard books. There are a lot of books that I read through quickly, but really like returning to, just to find the extra bits and pieces that I missed the first time around. Even when I read a book slowly, returning to a book that I already know the gist of leaves me with the ability to find all the smaller details.

    As for collecting books, it's not just for rereading. I just like having my own books and my own personal library. When I read a great book from the library, I'll often buy it just so that I have it for myself, so that yes, I can reread it, or yes, I can lend it out to all my friends, and yes, I can just stare at its spine and recall all the good times I had with it.

    Great post.

  11. Lately, I've just been buying ebooks. I have two bookshelves that are completely full (and yes I've read them all) and am reluctant to expand any further because the stuff is hard to lug around and they just collect dust (luckily I have lawyer bookshelves that cover them all with glass). Anyway, I tell friends, "Hey...if you get me a book...get it for my iPad please."

  12. A part of me feels that life's too short to reread anything. How do we justify it? Don't we want to cover new territory, new horizons, etc, etc? A lot of us will only reread a novel if we're sure we'll get something new out of it.

    It's even harder to justify making return trips through a book when you consider that a novel being read is also a novel (or thousands, depending on how you look at it) not being read. And... ah. That thought actually really bothers me. I'll think I'll just leave it at that.