The Unread Book – Not Much Is Not Read

My bookshelf in Amsterdam

My bookshelf in Amsterdam

12 November 2013
12:21 pm


T. —

When I was in Amsterdam, a friend was doing an art project about words and meaning, and she asked some people for a photo and reflection on the topic. I was going through a tough time with books and reading, and so this is the photo, and the reflection that I sent to her:

“I have piled up books on my bookshelf, some that I have brought with me – carefully selected to avoid too much weight in my suitcase – and others that I have bought in Amsterdam at bookstores or market stalls. But, while I am not at a loss for material, I am not in the mood or mindset to read. For a while, I had to bribe myself to pick up anything, and eventually I stopped forcing myself to engage with them altogether. The disengaged book becomes part of the scenery, in the way that interior designers will choose books for the color of their spines. Red books in the living room by the piano, with a hint of brown to bring out the sheen of the wooden floors. Homeowners are encouraged to decorate their shelves with small items like seashells, vases, items of novelty between a sparse selection of unread books. The first time I saw this in a magazine, I balked. How could you remove a book without knocking these items of novelty all over the floor? But the book unread becomes another artefact on display; it makes no difference of the words inside at all. A closed book is like the proverbial tree in the forest: no one is there to hear the sounds that it may or may not make. I am terrified that one day I will open the books and find the pages blank or – worse – identical words on all of them, the covers having resigned themselves to simple decoration that does nothing to distinguish or differentiate the content. But I don’t open the books, and therefore have forced them into silence. They do not speak to me, and I have nothing to say in return to mute covers that may not mean anything at all.”


These days, my books are dusty only because I have so many of them and I can’t circulate through them all fast enough. But I am also taking dusty books home from the library, re-homing them, like that Grant Snyder cartoon that I shared back in October:

Grant Snyder - Mashable

Grant Snyder – Mashable


In the essays I’ve been reviewing, there is a recurring theme on an article by Mortimer Adler: How to Mark a Book. I read it in high school, but it just keeps coming back.

A few months ago, I was having a discussion with a friend about re-reading books. He doesn’t know why I re-read books. He has a great memory for things, and consumes so many books. There are always more to read, he said. I ask him: Yes, but do you re-listen to the same piece of music? 

Of course, he said.

Why? I ask.

Because I like it. Because I hear it differently each time. Because it’s familiar. (Yes, Rory, you said all of these things. I wrote them down.)

Which is why I re-read, I said.


These days, there is not much that is gathering dust. These days, there is not much that is not read. I am diving in with my hands wide and my heart open, and so far it seems to be working.

The only thing gathering dust: my ModPo binder… I want to finish reading the poems, and I want to hear all the discussions. More, more, more.

Undust all the books.

Good morning,


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