Like many at the post calvin, and unfortunately for my bank account, I have an inescapable habit of buying books. Eight years ago, I was in the habit of buying several books a week; other than the purchase of an $800 car, almost every cent I earned during four years of work during high school went to either the local Books-A-Million (BAM!) or Last Exit Books, my favorite used bookstore in northeast Ohio.
I was borderline addicted, even unsuccessfully giving up the purchasing of new books for Lent one year. My library—which has induced great back pain in the many relocations I have made over the past four years—also benefited from the retirement of two different professors and the inheritance of a family member’s private collection. My habit has since cooled, mostly because as a student who has been in higher education for the past six years, I’ve been conditioned into more prudent patterns of financial spending. This Lent, rather than adding books, I’ve been trying to subtract some (I’m totally not going to trade them in for more).
And, as you could expect, most of the books I own I have not read.
There’s a popular belief that you can come to know someone by their bookshelves. There’s a humorous trend of identifying “red flag” books for dating prospects, like BuzzFeed’s “28 ‘Favorite’ Books That Are Huge Red Flags.” The reverse is also commonly portrayed as true in popular media, with the presence of one’s favorite book being a good omen for someone’s status as a potential partner or for a budding friendship. This happens several times with Ted Mosby (Josh Radnor) in How I Met Your Mother (2005–14). But I’m unconvinced this truism has any applicability for people—perhaps the average book consumer—who have a vast shelf of books that remain unread.
In addition to being the season for subtracting books, Lent is also a time for self-discovery, examining our habits and who we are.
What can you know about me through my unread books?
Cracking the Genome: Inside the Race to Unlock Human DNA by Kevin Davies
There are some unread books that I’ve almost read on several occasions, only choosing a different title at the last second. This is not one of those books. I’ve never thought about reading it. But, at some point in undergrad, I got mildly interested in the Human Genome Project.
Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
I actually plan on getting to this one eventually! In the meantime, its presence functions to make me look smart.
The Senator: My Ten Years with Ted Kennedy by Richard E. Burke
Like most of my peer American males, I too went through a Kennedy phase. I’m not even positive I haven’t read this one. If this counts as a red flag, it didn’t seem to bother my wife too much.
Twentieth-Century China by O. Edmund Clubb
It still has a thrift-store sticker on it. Does that mean anything?
Arguably: Essays by Christopher Hitchens by Christopher Hitchens
It has a coffee stain on the cover and my wife found it outside our apartment building, on a public ledge with no one in sight. She knew the name on its cover once meant something to me. What kind of sicko would turn down a free book?
The Electric Michelangelo by Sarah Hall
I discovered I owned this book—and that this book exists—about ten minutes before writing this sentence.
Men Without Women by Haruki Murakami
It’s my wife’s.