The OF Blog: TBR? I do not think in such terms

Saturday, March 30, 2013

TBR? I do not think in such terms

Every now and then, I'll see a comment on another's blog or on Twitter expressing a faux-complaint (or at least I hope it is such!) about how they have "too many books to read" and that their pile of TBR (to-be-read) books continues to grow.  At times I think it's a mixture of humble-brag (after all, that emphasis on "too much" could be juxtaposed with "hey, I'm able to have lots of books in my possession," or at least it would have seemed like such to me when I was in college 20 years ago!) and a view of books as possessions and not necessarily as facilitators of learning.

I prefer to think of my books as being component parts of a personal library.  I'm uncertain how many I currently own in physical form (I'd guess somewhere between 1700 and 2200, depending on the contents of a dozen boxes or so; I know I have a little over 600 in e-book formats), but the books I do have I consider to be a library that I can consult, even though some I will likely never read front-to-back all of the way through.  Below are certain component parts of my library, including some comments on how I utilize them:

Here is a shelf of various translations of the Bible into 17 different languages.  Not pictured are the over two dozen commentaries, mostly on Catholic interpretations but also some from other faiths.  These books are used not just for spiritual reasons (I am a practicing Catholic, for those who did not know this), but also to provide points of comparison on issues of popular religious practice that have interested me since grad school.

I've posted this picture or one like it recently of my Library of America collections (bottom row includes 10 volumes from their American Poets Project), but I include it here to note that I consider these books (of which I've read only a little over a dozen all the way through) to be valuable resources in case I ever choose to return to the classroom as either a history professor/teacher or English instructor.  There is a wealth of primary sources here regarding certain authors that I would love to cover in a class (e.g. William Faulkner, Flannery O'Connor, Henry James, et al.) and it is convenient to have them in these hardcover editions.

I'm currently in the process of rearranging my shelves (weekends-only project that's been underway for the past month) and most of my foreign-language books have been boxed up until two new large wooden bookcases arrive, so this picture of my Portuguese and Italian-language books will have to serve as a sample of the dozens of shelves I have in languages other than English.  I view these books not just as works of art, but also as tools that will allow me greater insight into the cultures that produced these authors.  For myself, reading "enjoyment" is something that occupies the senses long after the book is reshelved, and these books contain some excellent writing and stories.

Related to the paragraph above, I do love learning languages.  But regardless of whatever aptitude I might have, it takes years and lots of hard work to learn how to read a language (especially one that utilizes a different alphabet and has a radically different syntax from English).  So these books, some for languages that I can read fairly fluently and others for those I plan on studying in the future, are an invaluable resource (most are college textbooks, while others are bilingual dictionaries).  Not all are pictured here, but I have dictionaries and/or coursebooks for roughly two dozen languages, ranging from the Indo-European languages to Arabic to Swahili to even Quechua and Basque.  There's something about languages that is a combination of solving a mystery and music to me.  I want to improve my sleuthing as well as my listening comprehension, so these books are vital for me.

But these are just components of my library.  Not pictured are books that I read for other reasons, such as reviewing for this blog (or others like Gogol's Overcoat) or for more whimsical purposes, but whatever the reason, it is nice to have books that I have not yet read in full (or in part), as that leaves room for discovering new perspectives on issues that I might want to learn more about in the future.  TBR?  Pfft!  More like potential resources to me.


Heloise said...

lol, not everyone sees their library as a resource to be exploited, though - some of us get books because they, you know, actually *enjoy* reading them. And to those (who, I suppose, might be minority) every unread book is a treasure chest of potential pleasure which of course one hopes to unlock some day.

Larry Nolen said...

You mean I don't enjoy them as well? :O Pfft! :P But point taken :D

Bryce L. said...

I understand and very much appreciate your non-tbr. For me, and maybe I still need to mature a bit, I want to read the books that are right in front of me, so I buy them (usually at as reduced a price as possible), then I get ARCs and I want to read them all too. Suddenly, for some reason I actually think I can read everything (even though it's factually impossible) in addition to the already enormous amount of books I already want to read that I already owned/are already on my TBR. Thus, I have "too much" on my tbr because I'm absolutely insane in that I expect a reality that does not even exist.

On the other hand, I'm getting a lot better at cutting my losses and treating my library as one with lots of options, because options are what's important. Also, I don't have a lot of reference-type materials.

Anonymous said...

I'm a big fan of the LOA, too. Their books are works of art. I had planned on buying all of them until they included Gertrude "Unreadable" Stein in the collection. Anyhoo, I still love the physical aspect of books, but I find it easier to read ebooks now. Also, the space concerns and the hassle of moving the seemingly countless number of books (actually I never have moved due to a fear of new things-but if I DO move in the future) has slightly tainted what was once an unvarnished, unadulterated source of pride and, on rare days, joy.

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