Decorating With Books
Now, I am appalled by this sort of collecting. But why should I be? I barely skim many of my books before sticking them on a shelf. Is the reason guilt? Is the problem that the person who buys books by the foot is not that different from me, and I find this acutely embarrassing? Maybe the problem is that the "by the foot" collector is not being "politically correct" by pretending their intention is to read the books.
Of course, there is a very respected category of collector who long ago threw out any pretenses of reading their books. These are the collectors of fine bindings and such; collectors of limited edition reprints of old books neither they, nor probably anyone else, would care to actually read any more. There are private presses which make their living by catering to this market. I never really understood the appeal of this type of book, but perhaps it is not that different from my type of collecting. Both treat the book as an object. It's just that I attempt to genuflect to the subject matter of the book a bit more vigorously. But, so what?
I think the problem lies in the nature of books, and this is what makes me uncomfortable with treating them strictly as objects. Books have an almost sacred purpose. They have been the means by which we have conveyed our knowledge, history, who we are, to our contemporaries and descendants. It is what is inside of them that matters, not the physical object.
As a comparison, I have a small collection of old bottles. I display them with no guilt of having never used, nor planned to use them for their intended purpose: holding liquid. Should the brewer look upon me with disdain? Of course not. Would I feel unhappy with someone displaying a collection of old television sets, that once brought their owners the news of the world, but that no longer functioned as intended? No. Yet I am uncomfortable with displaying books with no thought of ever using them for their intended purpose. I'm not sure whether I am inconsistent, elitist, or justified in this feeling. Perhaps the difference is displaying books seems to imply that one read them, while displaying old bottles does not imply that you drank the contents, or old TVs that you ever watched them. Maybe I have no business feeling this way about "books by the foot." But that doesn't stop me.
Editor's Note: This article has generated several comments in the "Letters to the Editor." Click the following link to see them: Click here.