Jamie Smith hasn’t posted on his blog for a long time. It’s been a long time between December 2016, and this post of the 22nd May 2017. I get how these “gaps” happen because they happen to me more and more often. It’s been a while since I was able to add a post a day to this blog, a blog begun over 15-years ago. My life and circumstances have changed in lots of unexpected and unforeseen ways.
All that to introduce the fact that I resonated a lot with Jamie’s reflection on books, so I thought I’d quote him:
“…And as I try to find room for all of these on shelves already burgeoning and lined two rows deep, I’m returning books alongside others unread…
…A young man builds his library in hope. Each paperback treasure is acquired as an act of aspiration. A library is an image of the man he hopes to be: the canon he constructs is a standard of what he thinks he ought to know. It grows quickly, in unexpected ways, exceeding his attention. But there will always be more time to read, right?
A middle-aged man tends his library with a more sombre aspect. Reshelving a book unfinished is one more failure; a door one closes perhaps never to return. When I put The Noise of Time back on the shelf, I recall all the places Barnes has accompanied me on this adventure. But I see some of his novels still unread and wonder if I’ll ever get back to this corner of the library. In fact, it was Barnes who gave me a word for this: le réveil mortel—the wake-up call of mortality. Who knew tidying your library could be such an existential risk?
At some point you realize: I will die with books unread on my shelf. So be it. The grass withers, the flowers fade, the pages become mildewed and musty. So too will I. Even those unread books are a sign of aspiration, ambition, and hope. I’ll die reading. I trust there are libraries in the kingdom…”
You can read his complete post here.
I was a young man in my early twenties when I started building my library across multiple academic and practical disciplines. I added fiction, poetry, memoir, and more besides. Today I’m more aware of my mortality and of the finiteness of life, but still I nurture hope, and nourish a passion for learning; a passion for books; a longing to become…