I really love books.
And I also love reading.
Those two loves are connected, but they really aren’t the same thing. My love of reading is about expanding my knowledge and creativity. It is a way to fill my mind with magic and science. Reading allows me to fill my intellectual quiver with new arrows as I battle my way through life. When I read a book on one subject I can usually use that knowledge for another… a book on Buddhism hints at the polyamorist idea of compersion, a business book can relate to ethics, a fantasy novel connects to religion, etc.
Books, on the other hand, serve a different purpose. In today’s world, I could easily (and more cheaply) read using a Kindle or on my computer. Technology allows me to read just about anything and glean knowledge from the works of millions of people. Books are not necessary for reading, but they are something I value.
Having a full bookshelf is not necessarily about what I plan on reading. If I’m being truly honest, I’ll probably only really read half of the books currently on my shelf, and I’ll probably buy
dozens hundreds more in the future. Books are about signaling and sharing. My shelf is a signal to my guests what my interests are. It shows that I love science and mysticism, sex and economics, psychology and poetry, the classics and modern literature. The books on my shelf relay a message about the subjects that I’d rather be discussing instead of the weather or small talk. My bookshelf tells people that yes, they can ask me about my thoughts on sexual fetishes or God or anarchism. (And yes, you can borrow any book)
And I think that’s okay.
Books are not holy artifacts that should be hidden away. They shouldn’t be elevated above the very human need to communicate our interests and advertise our passion. Books allow us to connect with humans quickly and easily, to signal that we have similarities or that we are educated on some subjects. The social benefits of the bookshelf can’t be found with a Kindle or online resources.
I love having a full bookshelf and books are probably the one thing that I will continue to buy as I move around the globe. There are boxes of my books in at least three cities right now and hopefully I’ll get them back… but if I don’t get them back I hope my friends put them on their shelves, even if they don’t agree or know about the subjects, because that is a little piece of me in their life. I may not be in pictures on their wall but if there is my copy of Urban Tantra or Why Is The Penis Shaped Like That? on their shelf that will make me smile.
Books are beautiful, amazing, tools that help us humans relate to each other through space and time… and so is reading.
Post Script: I also enjoy the act of reading a book over a Kindle and I find it easier to take notes and retain the information… but that doesn’t take away from the social aspect of book ownership.