I am beginning to wonder whether there is such a thing as re-hab for book addicts, as my so far relatively benign bibliophily shows some threatening signs towards the development of full-blown bibliomania. Today I spent again another half a day in bookstores at Harvard and at times it is really difficult to tell if I’m even enjoying it. Of course, I do like to leaf through books, read a few stories or poems and all that, but standing up against a wall full of books running for tens of meters in both directions where I can everywhere spot some novels that I know I’d like to read and others that I already should have read.. it kind of makes me anxious. Anxious because when standing there, the realisation that you will never be able to read them all hits you with full force and undeniable clarity. All the books are there, ready to be picked from shelves, opened and read – and indeed, I could take any one of them and read it through, and this is precisely what makes it feel so desperate.
Walter Benjamin has written is his 1931 essay “Unpacking My Library”:
For a collector – and I mean a real collector, a collector as he ought to be – ownership is the most intimate relationship that one can have to objects. Not that they come alive in him; it is he who lives in them. So I have erected one of his dwellings, with books as the building stones, before you, and now he is going to disappear inside, as is only fitting.
I can fully relate to this – and although my own library is something that can probably still be packed and unpacked within a couple of hours, its growth (rather healthy nonetheless) has so far been limited only by application of some iron discipline and the fact that we keep on running out of shelf space back at home. After my last shipment back to Estonia from Malta, Helelyn informed me in her ever sweet way that with this we are, yet again, fully booked. And here I am barely a 100 pages into David Foster Wallace’s “Infinite Jest” which means that there is still about 1000 more pages to go before I can get started with another one of the six more unread books waiting in my bag.
Speaking of “Infinite Jest” – it is a truly enjoyable read. Paraphrasing a movie review that I read several years ago – it’s a kind of a book that kicks your ass, takes your wallet, checks your address, comes to your home, knocks on the door, and when you open it – kicks your ass some more. One particular part early in the book, with two burglars and a certain pair of toothbrushes with enhanced-focus handles, got me laughing out aloud in a commuter train. And the amazing part is that, although the book is a veritable door-stopper, it is on every page as precise and sharp as a short story. There’s not a gram of fat, nothing superfluous. It cuts like a surgical instrument. Here is a sample for you, from another book, of what Wallace can do with a few lines. In a way, it reminds me a lot of Robert Creeley, a similarly surgical American poet.
On another front, I was admitted to Cornell summer school with full tuition scholarship – yay! Of course, this will mean further piles of reading before mid-June and then six weeks of hard core critical theory among some 80 other similarly inclined strange people who have decided to spend a better part of their summer musing over what have Agamben and Badiou said on conservativism and religion or Žižek on opera. Which is one one hand slightly disquieting. But while I do recognise that there is a real danger of theory-related OD looming, right now I am very much looking forward to it.
And finally, another find from bookstores today, this time a poem by one of my long time favourites Yehuda Amichai. It goes out to a friend of mine who has, quite appropriately for the season about to begin, fallen madly in love. You know who you are.