Shaun Levin

Archive for May, 2013|Monthly archive page

On the Importance of Having Unread Books on Your Bookshelf

In Writing on May 23, 2013 at 1:25 pm

Unread books wait on our shelves, full of potential, their knowledge imminently ours. Unread books are stories we avoid, gifts we were given, memories sculpted in time. Unread books are objects, the picture on the cover, the words on the spines, the place of purchase. Was it the Bodhi Tree on Melrose, or Housing Works near Broadway, or Skoob Books before Skoob Books moved to the Brunswick Centre, or that place on Ben Yehuda Street, or the bookshop in Sydney when we lived near Nowra and ran out of books to read and they’d mail the books to the post office in town and we’d drive for miles to pick them up? Unread books are in our living rooms and bedrooms, some in the loft or the kitchen. Unread books are a secret; they are who we are. Unread books are partially read. Some are almost-reads. An unread book signed by its author is hard to give away, especially if our name appears in the inscription. For Shaun. With best wishes. Unread books reassure us. Unread books are wishes. They wait. We like to be waited for. Unread books tell us that we have things to do, that we can’t go now, not now and not for a while yet. Unread books ward off death. Unread books are a title and its promise. Unread books are written by friends we wish were better writers than they are. Guilt and duty keep us from discarding those unread books, or taking them to the charity shop where proceeds go to a cat shelter. We’d like to like some unread books more than we do. We would read them if we had more of an open-ended sense of time, an occasional glimpse into infinity. Unread books are who we are in our best moments, mirrors and reflections and badges of erudition and originality. Unread books are by authors who wrote a book that we loved and expected to love this unread book as much as the other. We thought we’d love it when we bought it in another city, but when we got home we found that we no longer loved the book, now we hope that one day we’ll recapture that love and the person we were when we bought the book that is still unread. Unread books hold the past. They are books we want to love. Unread books impress, make us look good, they are the books we want to be thought to have read. Unread books are similar to the books we’re writing, similar in style or subject matter, and so we believe they’ll inspire us, help us broaden the scope of our work, but that’s not what happened. After the first few pages, we balked. Unread books are books we keep regardless. Unread book have something important to tell us, something significant to contribute to our work and our life. Unread books will expand our world, give us insight and greater confidence. An unread book is someone we want to meet, a place we want to go to, a life we want to lead. Unread books are books no one else has, rare books, first editions, books we’ll never get to. An unread books is a guide to something we wanted to learn, but time has passed and that desire has passed, too, and to get rid of the book is to admit that the skill or the knowledge will never be ours. Unread books are evidence of a disappointment. Unread books are big books given to us on special occasions, books we’ve had for years, carried from house to house. Unread books have been places. Unread books are a promise of languid days, written in genres we steer clear of, from points of view that seemed intriguing – a chimpanzee’s perspective, the voice of a dog, or someone who has died. We’d planned to imitate the unread books, study them, devour them, but they proved too challenging or not challenging enough, nor inspiring, yet we didn’t blame them entirely, but ourselves, too, for we are impatient and judgemental. Unread books are gifts from people we dislike, people who angered or hurt us. Whatever they gave us is contaminated with those feelings. They thought we’d like the book and, because they knew us well, they were right. In time, we will extricate the book from their clutches, overcome the memory and enjoy the book just as they knew we would. Unread books are about us and about our people, our race, our profession, our sexuality, our ethnic affiliations, our gods. Unread books are some part of us we’re not ready to see closely. Unread books are too big for bed, too bulky for a bag, too heavy for the sofa. Unread books look good on a shelf. Unread books have interesting titles, like Decent Passions, or The Poetics of Space, or Voices of Time, or The Complete Guide to Self-Publishing. An unread book is sometimes an unfinished book, one we started and abandoned but kept because there have been other books we’ve started and not finished and then revisited and relished. Unread books become read books. Unread books are biographies, letters, diaries. Unread books will validate our choices and misfortunes. Unread books are millions of new sentences and new ways of configuring the order of words. Unread books defy our rules of book-culling. Some have not been read in the past two years nor will they be read in the next two, yet still they remain. Unread books cling. Unread books are not people. Unread books will rock our world. An unread book is the wise person we meet on a journey. Unread books are more than their words. Unread books are the author’s picture and the paper and the font and the dust jacket, and the sticker on the back if we bought it in a second hand bookshop, the markings inside, the highlighted words, the notes in the margins, ours or someone else’s. Unread books were bought with a project in mind, or a friend, or something or other that never materialised. Unread books answer unasked questions, shed light on our stories. Unread books are tarot cards. Unread books are for when the momentous thing happens, the thing that will need the solace that a book can give. Unread books rely on the reading of another book or the seeing of a film or a trip to a certain place. Unread books require another act. Unread books are books we want to have read. Unread books make us look tolerant, erudite, humane, intriguing, original. Unread books are books we will read, or should read, or would read if only we had the time and the urgency. Unread books will make us better people, especially books with titles like Men’s Friendships and Full Catastrophe Living. An unread book would help us if we’d let it. Unread books are a test, proof of an intention. Unread books are thwarted journeys. Unread books are a barricade. Unread books are company. Unread books are individuals and a tribe. Unread books are who we are when we are at our most vast, deep, complex, rich and resilient. Unread books are an echo of the world’s libraries. Unread books are a mating-call. Unread books are life.