There are just too many books to read. And while one might make the very good point that you could just wait to buy them when you have more room, there’s something about putting them in a row with other books, read and unread, that creates the cumulative impression of your reading self. Because, when it comes to reading, there will always be more book that you haven’t read than books that you have, and your reading ambition will always be more important than your reading accomplishments. “The most profound enchantment for the collector is the locking of individual items within a magic circle in which they are fixed as the final thrill, the thrill of acquisition, passes over them,” wrote Benjamin. “Everything remembered and thought, everything conscious, becomes the pedestal, the frame, the base, the lock of his property.”
A library of mostly unread books is far more inspiring than a library of books already read. There’s nothing more exciting than finishing a book, and walking over to your shelves to figure out what you’re going to read next.
So, the solution here is to just slow down on the buying, not cut it out entirely, which means things like limiting myself to one book per bookstore visit. As I start to chip away at the huge list of Books I Want To Read, I’m sure that list will deepen and broaden in ways I can’t predict, so eventually the library may be more balanced and not so skewed toward books I haven’t read, but it will never be fixed row of read books. Libraries aren’t meant to be intractable, they’re meant to change, and they change by buying books. As long as I don’t trip over those piles of books on my floor and break my leg, it seems to me that having too many books on your hands is a pretty wonderful problem to have.