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Ghosts on her shelves

posted by Patrick Tanguay   Jul 30, 2019

Photo by Lesly Juarez on Unsplash

It’s always interesting to see how people feel about books. Some don’t read them, some always have one in hand, even walking. Some read everything, some pile the unreads endlessly. Some read them with purpose, to learn something, get better at some tasks; others to escape, dream, discover some new imaginary universe. Karen Olsson at the Literary Hub wonders why she doesn’t read all her books, and, contrary to her husband who diligently reads anything written by a friend or given to him, she has multiple unread books. They remind her of past interests, past lives, future intents, projects, they whisper to her.

I keep this book around even though I don’t wish to make anything of it in a literal sense—I don’t want to write fiction or nonfiction or a nutty screenplay about a mesoamerican document, but I wish for it to somehow whisper in my ear while I write something not at all about the map, for its enigmatic presence to leave some ineffable trace.

I love this idea of books as biographies, including alternative ones.

I’ve become conscious of the alternative biography my books represent, a history of stray intentions, youthful aspirations, old interests that have run their course but not quite expired, since there’s always that chance I might decide to learn at last about portrait miniatures, or neuroscience, or the Battle of the Alamo.

In some cases, there’s even some kind of fear of the real thing not matching up to the mystery.

Perhaps in some cases it has actually meant more to me to possess a book than to read it, because as long as its contents remain unknown to me, it retains its mystery. The unread book is a provocation, a promise of something that might dissipate if I slogged my way through the text.