books · bookshelves

In Front of a Bookcase

Last night I was standing in front of a bookcase, looking for a book to read before going to bed. I left without any. It happens… Sometimes I take a book for this reason only – not to leave empty-handed. I give it a try but more often than not it ends up laying on the table or by the pillow, waiting to get back on the shelf. Sometimes it feels as if I know them all and I need a surprise. Sometimes I think I want a particular title but it turns out its time has not yet come. (I tried to read War and Peace several times, for instance; never got through the first volume. Doctor Zhivago, the same story).

So, as I was standing in front of a bookcase I thought how magnificent it would be to have a library composed of books piling up on my to-read list only. Books on whose titles I stumbled upon while reading other books (An Experiment With Time by J.W. Dunne, or Die Blendung by Elias Canetti), or literary magazines (The Castle of Argol, Julien Gracq), books mentioned in interviews with writers (On Heroes and Tombs, Ernesto Sabato) or reviewed by various bloggers (Melancholy, Jon Fosse), books I’ve heard of from a friend (A Handful of Dust, Evelyn Waugh), books that attracted me with the title (Winter’s Tale, Mark Helprin), or the back cover summary (Biographer’s Tale, A.S. Byatt), with the theme (Death with Interruptions, Jose Saramago), imagined style (Fishing for Amber, Ciaran Carson) or even the front page alone (The Following Story, Cees Nooteboom). Such a fantastic collection of unknown yet familiar books it would be.

I say familiar because every one of these titles represents a document of a particular state I was in when I stumbled upon them; a document of my interests and preoccupations at a certain point of time… For quite a number of these books I cannot remember when or why I have assigned the label to read. Also, I feel sorry for not taking notes of the ways in which I got to know about a particular book. It would be interesting to analyze.

We can imagine the books we ’d like to read, even if
they have not yet been written, and we can imagine
libraries full of books we would like to possess, even if
they are well beyond our reach, because we enjoy
dreaming up a library that reflects every one of our
interests and every one of our foibles—a library that, in
its variety and complexity, fully reflects the reader we

Alberto Manguel. Library at Night


5 thoughts on “In Front of a Bookcase

  1. Sometimes books just won’t pick themselves sadly, I like how you say sometimes a books time hasn’t come yet. Lovely phrase, same about War and peace though, it does gets truly fantastic, although that may have a bit to do with the fact that at page 750 you realise you are finally halfway through.

    Apart from A.S. Byatt, I hadn’t hear of any of those authors…so now I have more books to explore and possibly, probably add to the wish list. This pleases me greatly.

    There are some titles that don’t appeal after years sat on the shelves which is always a great disappointment, perhaps we evolve, tastes change or perhaps, like you say its time is not yet due….

    1. The same happened with Fuentes’s Terra Nostra.. On two occasions I plunged into it unsuccessfully, reaching only to page 60. But the third try was the winner. Needless to say, the book is just fabulous. I see it’s on your reading list. I wonder how will you feel about it..

      Yes, you are quite right – some titles on the shelves seem to be doomed to never be read.. I feel some kind of repulsiveness toward them – as if I have read them long time ago and I didn’t like them or, for others, as if I knew them too well, almost to the point of feeling bored by only casting a look at their covers.. Strange.. Now I feel sorry for them :S

  2. Terra Nostra does look complex with all the characters listed and that made me wary…I hope that time permitting I get the chance to read it this year.

    What we need is a bookcase of guilt, to be placed in the bedroom so whenever you sleep they look at you and make you feel ashamed and that you have to read them…or perhaps I just have an odd mind.

    1. Sounds quite masochistic, I must say.. :)
      We already have one of those in our minds, obviously… Guess its physical presence would not make much of a difference.. At least in my case…
      No! I refuse to feel guilty! They will not make me… Every reader has his own bookpath and bookpace and they are all as they are – highly personal and, in their own ways, right. Right?

      1. Right! Yes you make me feel better about Anna Karenina and Paradise Lost, amongst other languishing on the Shelves of Dust. However I find it quite fun to be a masochist so will enjoy the abuse just at fewer times. Perhaps i will move Don Quixote to another room though….just in case.

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