The Great Unread

Ruth Graham of Slate asks the question: is it gauche to display books that you aren't going to read?

Well I do have a lot of books on my shelves (and in boxes in my garage, and in my office, on the bedside table, in the bathroom, and in closets here and there). It's also true that many of them have many unread pages. I have a couple of copies of blue Jackson and a couple of green Jackson, and I've only worked about three dozen of the problems. Of course one of those copies is actually my son's, who doesn't actually like books. (That's also true of one of my copies of MTW and a few other physics books).

I think that I can honestly say that I've never bought a book for myself that I didn't intend to read, and in fact still usually intend to read. Given my age and declining intellect, most of them, I fear, will not get read.

Graham leads with an exchange from our modern cultural arbiters, a couple of Kardashians:

Kris: “I’m obsessed with books right now. I’m reading a book about Le Courvoisier [sic], which is an architect. It’s so weird and boring, but I’m obsessed.”

Khloe: “No you’re not. And you’re not reading that book.”

Kris: “Well, I look at them.”

Khloe: “Right, you look at it. It’s not a real book.”

Kris: “It has words.”

Khloe: “Oh, ‘This building was erected in nineteen-whatever’?”

Kris: “Yes, it’s called history.”

Khloe: “That’s a coffee table book.”

Well, there you go.

Graham renders an even handed verdict:

“Do people really keep books to display them?” one colleague asked. “A private library is a promise to yourself, not a premise about your personhood.” But I say that’s purist nonsense. Books have always played both roles. They are not just stories and information, they are badges of identity and, yes, ornamentation. A book on a shelf faces inward and outward at the same time.

Anyway, I have to get back to looking at one of my Condensed Matter books. It's kind of weird and boring but I like looking at the pictures - if I can find some.


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