The Curse of Too Many Books

Hi, my name is Steve and I am a serial over-reader. I collect books, read book, teach books and write about books. Much to the annoyance of my wife I even have a preference for decorating my house with books. Add to this habit the ever present reading material available online that is forever filling my Instapaper account and I have the constant makings of a reading bender. I made a concerted effort towards the end of 2012 to get my online reading diet under control, and that trend has continued. My RSS feed is now down to just 4 blogs and I have stopped following the daily back and forth of news coverage almost entirely. However, books still cloud my vision daily.

So this year I made something of a resolution to read less- decrease the breadth but increase the depth. I chose one book, The Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad, and decided to read it slowly and often throughout the year. The last time I read Conrad was high school, but I remembered liking this title and it is a fairly short work that I could read multiple times throughout the year, making it the perfect choice for my experiment. I am doing things I have never done before like taking extensive marginalia, and looking up critical papers on Google Scholar. 2013 is going to be the year I become an expert on The Heart of Darkness. 

I plan to add in an additional title for study around midyear. That choice will cover some aspect of history that is applicable to our current state of affairs but that has the weight of time behind it. I am confident that quality time spent with works of classic tenor will provide more intellectual sustenance than the steady diet of popular history and best sellers that have often filled my plate. I want to read to better understand the world around me, not just to kill time in recondite pursuits.

After deciding on this tact for my year’s reading I found in serendipitous that I came across this quote from W.H. Auden the other day:

Again, while its a great blessing that a man no longer has to be rich in order to enjoy the masterpieces of the past, for paperbacks, first-rate color reproductions, and stereo-phonograph records have made them available to all but the very poor, this ease of access, if misused — and we do misuse it — can become a curse. We are all of us tempted to read more books, look at more pictures, listen to more music than we can possibly absorb, and the result of such gluttony is not a cultured mind but a consuming one; what it reads, looks at, listens to is immediately forgotten, leaving no more traces behind than yesterday’s newspaper.Secondary Worlds 

And this was written in 1967, well before the onslaught of digital media. One wonders what Auden would think of our current dilemma.