Books I Own, But Have not Read: 1
This will come as a shock, no doubt: as an academic, I own some books that I have not read.
There, I said it. Admitting you have a problem, they say, is the first step to fixing it. But what if you have no intention or desire to fix it? What if it’s more a chronic condition than a problem?
My condition is that mix of bibliophilia and ambition that leads me to buy books to complete a set, fill out a series, extend an aesthetic line, and keep each other company. Sure, it’s object fetishism – but that’s justified easily enough. I tell myself that many of these books contain knowledge I might someday read, consult, cite, or peruse. Might is the operative, delusional word there – as if I have to own something to read it.
Let’s put aside the books that are part of my working library, the ones I use for teaching and research. Consider instead this specimen:
C. M. Bowra’s Wiles Lectures from the Queen’s University (Belfast) in 1965, don’t you know, were published the following year in this edition from Cambridge University Press. Cecil Maurice Bowra, 1898–1971, was a classical scholar, Warden of Wadham College (Oxford), and learned enough to cite Russian, Spanish, Chinese, Irish, and American poets in the same book. His broad, catholic learning and wicked wit (“Buggery was invented to fill that awkward hour between evensong and cocktails”) set him among a dwindling generation of Oxbridge scholars.
The book’s subject is poetry on public affairs in the first decades of the 20th century. That poetry necessarily moves poets beyond their private experience, as they consider and relate events and experiences they know only secondhand. Its rather defensive thesis is that political subjects are equally legitimate as private emotions or impressions: they reach a wider public and change our thinking about events in the world.
But enough of substance: look at the midcentury elegance of the dustjacket, the white-on-blue use of negative space, the otiose descender of the 9 in ‘1960’, and the inverted colours on the spine. Here it is from another angle.
And so back to its shelf, to keep company with its other midcentury Cambridge U P companions. This is a small collection I’ve been tending for a few years, and would love to build out a little more, one at a time. But more on collection-building for another post, another day.