I have plenty. I have too many. I would estimate that I currently have a ten-to-one buying-to-reading ratio.
Every Sunday, I wind up with a little time to kill in Hampstead, and so I invariably go to whatever sale is on in the community centre. Last time I ended up with my first work of art, but most other weeks they have second-hand books. They are my weakness, an Achilles heel that runs up my legs and right to the base of my neck.
I don’t need books. Or rather, I don’t need more books. I have plenty. I have too many. I would estimate that I currently have a ten-to-one buying-to-reading ratio. And this is not because I’m a slow reader but because I buy so many.
I’m just getting through an early Michael Chabon short-story collection, A Model World, but that’s one of three Chabons that I bought at the same time. I’m reading a book on Greek lyric poetry, so I bought two more books on Latin lyric for, you know, just in case I get round to them.
My bookcase several iterations ago; it has now been joined by another. And yes, there are some DVDs and Vanity Fairs there too.
Who am I kidding? The only way I’ll ever get round to them is either by a sudden financial windfall/rich husband, which means I never need to work again, or a six-month jail term for some blue-collar crime. Neither is likely.
So why do I (and you and others like us) buy too many books? Partly it must be the vain hope that we can read faster or find more time for reading (as if having books stashed in five locations around my house would allow for more unexploited opportunities). Books are the proleptic evidence of our desire: we trick ourselves into believing that having the books may *cause* us to have more time.
There is also intellectual ambition. I don’t just buy books on things I’m already interested in but on hitherto opaque subjects (both in fiction and in non): China, genetics, World War 2, W.H. Auden (from a second-hand bookstore in Manchester run by a man with no hands). Since I left university, Radio 4 and books have been my two principal ways of furthering my general education. This makes these books both promises and leering reminders of my inability to crack them open, a carrot-and-stick approach.
Finally, there is probably even a moral aspect: books allow you to understand the world a bit more, and that allows you to be more fully in it and more tolerant of (or at least knowledgeable about) others in it.
Books, in sum, take you beyond yourself, while taking you into yourself too. What more could you ask for, from ink and paper?