Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Just too many books

In a moment of synchronicity (add your own quotes to the word), I happened across two different pieces about having too many books. Apart from the intrinsic interest of each they're an illustration of work by somebody who writes and by somebody who is a writer, perhaps a too-cute distinction but one that's real, or at least defensible, enough.

Charlie Brooker in The Guardian has just realized that he has more books and DVDs that he can get through in the rest of his life. I came to the same realization about 15 years ago but without the same crisis.

Where Brooker goes with this is that he's buying stuff he just thinks he wants and that the freedom of choice is confusing. It's an indication that he's fairly superficial about this when he claims that from his computer he can download nearly any film or piece of music ever made which is simply wrong. Dave Kehr seems to have calculated that only about 4% of American films have been released on home video (see here) which I'll assume is more a rough calculation than a thorough review. But just for argument let's say Kehr is way off and that 20% of American films have been released and that the Internet has a ton of bootlegs that triple this up to 60%. That's still a lot of films not available and it gets even worse when we look outside American borders.

But really Brooker just wants to vent a bit about all the stuff he's acquired but not read, watched or heard. True readers, watchers and listeners don't really care about this, in fact the accumulations tend to be a by-product of intense involvement with whatever artform you prefer. Clearly some of us may take it to extremes (I haven't stopped purchasing books in the past 15 years) but even his idea of not wanting a "cultural diet" is hardly the response of somebody who really cares.

The piece by a real writer (dated the same as Brooks though I found them about a week apart) is Roger Ebert's "Books do furnish a life". Ebert is specific, doesn't leap to general conclusions from his own experience and just writes with more fluidity and interest. His piece also sounds very familiar to me despite a lot of obvious differences (for me no wife, no house, no residence in another country). But I know what he means about this: I have about six or seven translations of Don Quixote that clearly I will never read, three or four of Homer, two editions of Aubrey (admittedly they're practically different books), both abridgements of The Golden Bough (though at least not the entire thing), two complete Shakespeares along with single editions of several plays, and so forth. Plus literal piles of books that I need to read right now but tend to hang around. Ebert is to some degree simply explaining the situation but it's one where many of us are fellow travellers.