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Dying without a strategic plan

posted on 23 Jul 2017

Dying without a strategic plan

I read a lot of books about books, book collecting and the people who collect or sell books – it’s become a bit of a nerdy obsession. On the whole these are light confections that don’t take long to read and provide enough diversion to pass an afternoon, evening or train journey in relative equanimity.

However, I’ve noticed that there is a definite trend within the book collecting and book reading fraternity ( and, yes, it is mostly men who write these things) to talk frequently about death – specifically their own death and the fact that they will not have read or purchased every book they would like to have by the time they pop their clogs.

I’m just about to finish reading Joe Queenan’s One For The Books  and alongside his trademark sarcasm and sharp-edged wit there’s a definite shadow of passing time that seems to occupy his mind – it’s almost as if he keeps catching a glimpse of the approaching Grim Reaper out of the corner of his eye. As a result Queenan has seemingly spent some of the precious time he has still available to him calculating how many of his books he’s never going to get to read before the grave wins the day. As a result he says that the only sensible approach a dedicated reader can have to this conundrum is to have some idea of how many books you’ve got left in you and plot out which titles need to be read and which can be left to one side. He doesn’t use this term (and he’d certainly sneer at its use) but Queenan clearly thinks that those of us on the wrong side of sixty need a reading strategy to take us to the other side.

Now I’m quite certainly on the wrong side of the age divide when it comes to the equation relating to book ownership and the likelihood of me ever reading them but I have absolutely no intension of having a reading strategy, plan or even timetable. Admittedly I buy the books I do in order to read them at some point and the certainty that there will be ones I’ve never opened on the day I die suggests that my book buying proclivities are at best illogical – well, yes, and a damn good thing too I’d say.

I buy books to build a library that is a library of possibilities  - maybe someday I’ll read this book, maybe even, someday I should need this book but then again maybe not. I don’t know and I don’t care as long as I’ve got it because then I know I have the opportunity to read it if I choose. I find the idea that I have to read every book I buy a dreadful tyranny that drains the pleasure from the process of hunting the book down, revelling in its physical reality, mauling and touching it and finding the right place for it on the shelf.

For me books aren’t just a download of their contents from the author to me as the reader, they are also physical items of desire, sensory pleasures that have their own value.

So I’m heading for my end reading how I’ve always read – with no plan, making it up as I go along and throwing myself like some intemperate floozy at anything that catches my eye. This is travelling with no strategic plan. If I die never having read Don Quixote or pretty much anything by Tolstoy, if my end comes before I’m expecting it and I’m found with the latest ten-day wonder that turns out to be tripe, so be it. I really don’t care as long as my collection of books allows me to head off down whichever rabbit hole the fancy takes me.

 

Terry Potter

July 2017