Why I Hoard Books & Why I Won't Read Them

So many books I haven’t read Anna Karenina; The Pale King; The Night Circus; Silver Sparrow. These are a few of the physical books in front of me, suspended in the air by blood red “floating shelves” bolted to the wall. I dare not look into my Kindle or iBooks apps to see the e-books I haven’t opened–or even downloaded.

Hoarding books appears to be another aspect of the writer’s life:buying new books even though I hadn’t read books I previously purchased or those gifted to me by loved ones.

My “to read” list grows, as does my “currently reading” tab: those books I’ve partially consumed but, out of boredom or distraction, I sat down, never to return. This list includes The Savage Detectives, Pym, Brave New World, Fahrenheit 451, High Fidelity, Sag Harbor, Another Bullshit Night In Suck City.

(I turn my head slightly to the right, over my shoulder, to see the stack of books on my coffee table. Literary magazines and chapbooks and The White Album and A Sport and a Pastime and an ARC of a new Roberto Bolaño collection.)

Books–the unread–become stacked tomes denoting a type of shame or defeat, or a future defeat, something similar to death. I look at these books now and see my life in past tense, each one representing a moment lost to me. Meanwhile, the future is–what?–an assumption, a hope that what was and what is won’t end tomorrow or the next day.

Morbid, yes–but we all fill our lives with something: music, movies, a list of places to visit one day; and as we age, we begin to measure our lives not by time, but by the collections we build. These small, narcissistic, but wholly important piles of what we chose to consume and what we chose to use to enrich our lives. In that sense, my books are far more significant than a mere hobby or love or–dare I say?–requisite for becoming and improving as a writer.

But there is no desire to read these books, not at this time. My brain feels mushy and corroded by the Internet, by IRL problems–growing debt and a plan to relocate, for instance–and books, to be consumed and enjoyed fully, require more attention than I’m willing to give.

Sometimes, I want to box up these books and shove them in a closet–or toss them into a dumpster–or sometimes, like right now, I simply want to give them away.

Maybe I’ll donate them to the local library or put up a craigslist ad promoting “free books” because I don’t want any money for them. Hell, if people online were willing to pay for shipping, I’d send them whatever title they want. I want to give these treasures to people who’ll actually open and mine them.

Maybe that’s it. Maybe I have no interest in reading these books. For example, I’m looking at The Pale King–that thick, brutish hardcover book–and I’m trying to remember why I bought it. I’m not a David Foster Wallace fan–at all–and Brief Interviews… bored me and I’ve yet to venture into Infinite Jest. In other words, I had no real need to buy The Pale King. I bought it because of hype or out of obligation: the final, incomplete work of DFW, regarded by some as one of the best writers to come along in the last 20 years or so.

(I told my friend I couldn’t finish the book {I read the first few pages, now that I think about it} and my friend couldn’t finish it either and he said, “Well, DFW couldn’t finish it, either–what hope do we have?” and I laughed though I shouldn’t have, but–I’m morbid.)

There is no attachment to my books–these “things,” these “objects”–they weigh me down. A part of me feels as if I’m betraying some kind of writer’s code by unloading all of my books, as if every writer is to build his or her own library.

I read, more times than not, because I have to; it’s been so long since I last enjoyed a book for my own pleasure, as opposed to studying the author’s moves, looking to prime my own imagination for a future work, or load my brain with craft techniques & new vernacular. I didn’t grow up with a passion for literature; it wasn’t instilled in me or my siblings as a source of enjoyment though, to be fair, literature wasn’t discounted either.

Between the Internet and cigarettes and sex and food and sleep, there are other things I’d rather do than read. Other distractions or, more to the point, they’re made into distractions, as though I deliberately avoid the “work” of a writer, which is to read, while simultaneously finding joy in reading, in being silent, unplugged.

And in the habit to reach for the quickest source of entertainment–for me, that’s going online and trolling Tumblr or Twitter. and I can hear the voice in the back of my head say, “Time’s a’ wastin, mensah” and I can feel it. That vice-grip, that stab and twist of a blade, and to ignore is to drive oneself into a slight bought of madness. Reading–and by extension, writing–is my life’s purpose, I believe.

When unfulfilled, when bludgeoned by boredom, I become listless and weighed down by ennui. All of this only feeds my predilection for depression, starting a chain reaction of talk therapy and medication and self-destructive acts and downtimes when I believe I am healed. But health–well-being, I mean–is an act of vigilance and some people believe art, literature, can save lives. Literature–reading and writing–is so attached to me, when I don’t engage, life is a miserable series of moments.

mensah demary is co-founder & editor in chief of Specter Magazine. For more information, visit www.mensahdemary.com or follow him on Twitter @mensahdemary.

  • hmcclory

    Sometimes you just need the right book. The one with teeth and wild eyes that won’t let you give up. Rare beasts though.

    • Good point, ma’am. I probably need to reassess what kinds of books I’d like to read. I have a lot of lit fiction–which is fine, I love lit fiction–and I could use a little more variety, I suppose.

  • AK

    I totally know that feeling of reading out of obligation, not for pleasure.

    But I am SO possessive of the books I hoard. When I was in junior high I insisted on getting my own bookshelf for my bedroom so I could sort out all of “my” books from the rest of the family’s in the library.

    • I understand that. I built my library rather late–around 20 or 21 yrs old. I guess I’m not that possessive of my books–must be some Buddhist shit, I suppose lol

  • This is so totally beside the point but I am reading The Pale King right now, not particularly out of any feeling of obligation, just man, is it good.

  • Paul

    Incoherent and pointless. Mensah should read more, if only to stop him writing dross like this.

    • mensah demary

      Thanks for commenting, Paul!

    • mensah demary

      No capital “m” in the name, btw.

  • Luke Krsnak

    I think everyone knows this feeling. Between this post and something else I read today about the rigorous work ethics of successful artists of all kinds, I am officially guilt-tripped into writing something today, god damnit. I don’t know what, but I’m not going to feel any better playing video games. I should really have that tattooed on my eyelids- “You’re not going to feel better if you play video games.”

  • Tim

    If your thinking of giving them away, try http://www.bookmooch.com

    • mensah demary

      Thanks for the tip, Tim. Never heard of Book Mooch before, but I’ll check them out.

  • Danray

    Or, look for a Little Free Library near you or your travels at http://www.littlefreelibrary.org/
    The one a couple of blocks away from me in Wisconsin is great fun!

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  • Cynric definitely feels that he is entitled to whatever he wants. PigPoo!!! Thanks Dutchy! I am glad you loved it! I tried to make it romantic!