In defence of book quitting and not wasting your precious time

via: @bittycar

There’s an old Seinfeld rant where Jerry doesn’t understand people’s obsession with keeping books once you’ve already read them, “like they’re trophies”, because once a book’s read you have no use for it – and while he’s usually the voice of reason in the show, I have to point out why he’s both wrong and right on this.

In a way a good finished book is like a trophy (especially for someone like me who reads regularly but has no sporting prowess whatsoever and thus will not be winning a snooker trophy anytime soon), and if a book was gripping enough to not be abandoned in the first chapter why shouldn’t it earn a proud spot on the shelf?

I’m not saying I’m against doing a book cull, I’m saying if you’re picky about what you choose to read in full, then a book collection is like a beautiful assortment of stories or ideas that you chanced upon and liked.
I used to be one of those people who were adamantly against quitting a book once you’ve started it, no matter how dull or shithouse it was proving to be. But now I’m of the mindset that life’s too short to stick it out with something on the off chance that maybe it’ll pick up in 100 pages. Nah use that time finding a book that you dig immediately and doesn’t remind you of being forced to read something at school. Have standards about which books are lucky enough to be given some of your precious time, then keep them on display like the creative brain trophies they are.

Plus even with a decent book, no matter how good your memory is, inevitably you are going to forget majority of it beyond a loose recollection of the main plot points; so keeping something that you’ve already finished isn’t nonsensical for these reasons:

  • You could re-read it again
  • If you have fond memories of reading it, keeping the book around will help you remember both the book and what you were doing when you were reading it
  • If you’re a nicer person than me, you might want to lend out the books you thought highly of (yeah I rarely lend my books out, I’ve been burnt too many times)
  • You might be into the dog-tagging pages you liked and revisiting particular quotes or passages

Most importantly though, if we’re all doomed to forget the bulk of any book’s details, why finish something that sucks just so you can say you finished it? If it’s for closure, just google the ending and move on with your life!

via: @simpsonslibrary

Judging/Perving on other people’s bookshelves

I finally got round to reading The Scarlet Letter a few weeks back; it sucked, but a big part of the disappointment was the knowledge that my copy has been sitting on my shelf since Easy A conned me into thinking it might be ok ten years ago; for a decade it’s been touching all my books that don’t suck and during that time there’s also a real possibility that at one point somebody’s looked at my bookshelf and thought that I was a fan.

And yes maybe I’m insane/overthinking it but I personally love having a gander at other people’s bookshelves and getting an impression of what they’re into. I love going to a friend’s home for the first time and seeing which titles they loved enough to keep.

I love that feeling of spotting books on somebody else’s shelf that I’ve also read and realising that we both have another little thing in common.

There’s a David Hume theory that the features of an object are all that exist: there is no object only the features which form to create it. And if you think about seeing a collection of somebody’s books, that they’ve read or are maybe yet to read, has an intimacy to it as you’re seeing little pieces of what makes them who they are. Not to mention seeing how they’ve organised their books (if you’re not putting all you’re penguin classics in the same place you are a stone cold maniac!).

Then there’s William Faulkner who once said that, “a book is a souvenir of a journey, a handhold for the mind”, and I like that too because even though a bookshelf can be proudly on display, when you look at your own, you’re the only one who’ll know where you got each book from and where you were in your life when you read certain books.

My Dad has a large accumulation of books (mainly Ian Rankin, war history and Darwin Awards) and I remember being very impressed when I asked how many of his books he’d actually read and he responded all of them. At best I’ve read 75% of the books I own, but I love the idea of one day being able to look at my bookshelf and know that I’ve read everything on it.

Getting round to eventually finishing everything [or in some cases quitting after 20 pages and judging past me’s purchase decision] is the only way of having certainty that my beautiful collection is not unwittingly harbouring a few shitters in there. But I’m determined, and being in isolation has certainly helped the cause.