The Reading-Lust

I know not everyone has this lust; some people don’t read very much at all, others don’t like to re-read very much, others only re-read certain books (or certain types of books) and look to new ones otherwise.  I acknowledge, but do not imitate, them.  I re-read books.  This is why I buy them.

I own quite a lot of books — somewhere around 1200, a collection that any number of great readers of the past would have envied tremendously.  But of course books are far easier and less expensive proportional to income than they were in, say, 1650, or even 1750, when a library of 200 volumes was exceptional.

One day I would like to have a fine private library, so although I’ve had to move my books across the country already (and it is no negligible expense, moving books), I still have my living room nearly lined with books, with six bookcases and a coffee-table with shelves.  Every time I move or get in the decluttering mode I try to pare down my collection; on moving I got rid of five books (one of which I’ve since regretted not at least reading first), and more recently I removed six from my shelves, although I still haven’t actually removed them from my apartment.  That will come in time.

But I read them.  And re-read them.  Some books I’ve read a dozen or more times; others only once; more than I’d like not at all.  I tend to get in a rush and read a bunch by the same author.  Last month it was Dorothy Gilman, December Terry Pratchett, this month (so far) Diana Wynne Jones.  In the way one might desire a certain food, I desire a certain book, to immerse myself in the world and the voice and the characters, to know what is coming yet still be delighted in the twists and turns of the plot, perhaps to notice more of the craft that went into it this time.

I ask myself: Why can I happily re-read Dorothy Sayers’ mysteries, or Josephine Tey’s, but not Agatha Christie’s?  I think this has something to do with the quality of the book, but it also has to do with its nature; Agatha Christie’s books are excellent in their own way, but that’s a different way than Sayers’ or Tey’s.

When it comes to my own writing, I have only once had the reading-lust to read one of my own books in the way that I want to read other people’s.  It was quite a surreal experience.  I was intimately aware of ghostly past-possibilities, of where the story might have branched but I chose not to, rather than its structure as something to disentangle from the experience of reading it.

Usually I have a hankering, a yen, to read the books I haven’t yet written, an impetus that is frustrated by the incredible slowness of creating the book out of airy nothings.  But one day I’ll be able to pull them off the shelf, too.


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