Monday, August 12, 2013

The function of books

Four years ago I posted here a photo of my study by way of illustration of a blog: The walls of the room are full of books, as you can see; not only the one in the picture, but also the other walls. Once I have finished reading a book, I put it there. The books yet to be read have a special shelf. Books are the wall paper of my study, so to speak.
I have uploaded the photo of my study also to a social networking website. People there often ask me: Have you read all those books? Actually, I find it a bit a silly question. For why else should I have my books? Okay, I did not read the dictionaries and the atlases, for one doesn’t “read” such books but one uses them. But I have read my books insofar they have been published for reading in the normal sense. All of them? I must admit that the answer is “no”. Indeed, there are a few books that I didn’t read for some reasons, or I did only for a part. Why? Some had been so long on the waiting shelf that I wondered why I had ever bought them. Again and again I postponed reading them, because other books I had bought later looked more attractive and got a preferential treatment. Now I have solved the problem by reading books more or less in the order I have bought them: It has no sense to read a book ten years later when your interest has changed. Another reason why I sometimes postponed reading a book is that it looked so difficult to me that I found it better to read it with extra attention instead of reading it quickly and a bit superficially, as I often do. However, I did not make time for doing it and in the end the book came in the “Why had I ever bought it?” category. And there are also those books that I started to read but I found them so boring or incomprehensible or obscure that I put them aside before having finished reading them. Without a doubt there are other reasons why I didn’t read some books, but these are some of the most important. In fact, it didn’t happen so often so when asked “Have you read all those books?” I can honestly answer: “Yes, I did, or at least, say, 95% of them”.
Nevertheless, I always feel myself a bit ashamed when admitting that I haven’t read all, for in the end that’s why I bought them. But is this feeling right? Maybe my idea that books are there only for being read is too narrow minded. I got the idea that they can have other functions, too, when I read Arthur Schopenhauer’s preface to the first edition of his The World as Will and Representation, where he said:

“The reader … has bought the book for cash, and asks how he is to be indemnified. My last refuge is now to remind him that he knows how to make use of a book in several ways, without exactly reading it. It may fill a gap in his library as well as many another, where, neatly bound, it will certainly look well. Or he can lay it on the toilet-table or the tea-table of some learned lady friend. Or, finally, what certainly is best of all, and I specially advise it, he can review it.”

When writing this blog, I still have to read the rest of Schopenhauer’s book, which will be quite a job, for it has nearly thousand pages. But even if I’ll not succeed to read it till the end, I’ll have learned at least one thing: A book can have many functions. Using it as wall paper is acceptable even if you haven’t read it (so Schopenhauer). Improving the relation with an intelligent lady friend is good, too (how about a gentleman friend? Schopenhauer doesn’t talk about it). Writing about it makes also sense (it seems that Schopenhauer supposes that you do not need to read a book in order to criticise it). And certainly there are more usefull applications for a book as well (like supporting a wobbling table). And in the end a book has another possible function as well, for you can read it, too.


Tim Holt-Wilson said...

Read Schopenhauer's WWR and be amazed! It's a book for dipping into. Try Book 1, Chap. 54, for a start.

HbdW said...

Thank you Tim. At the moment I am reading the whole book, in German, from A to Z.

Grace said...

I see, that you have found the alternative use of Schopenhauer's book... :) Was it you who put the book under the table?

In Russia, some ten years ago having a good library full of books at home was nearly mandatory. And everybody knew it: Many books were released without text. There were only covers left. So another function will be "showing off" or representative to show erudition.
Another use of books is to use the paper for the toilet paper (I knew such people...)

I never have books in the restroom by the toilet for several reasons. If a constipation strikes (why else would anybody sit on a toilet for more than couple of minutes? It's not a place to rest!), then one must be concentrated on the process. And sitting on the toilet, reading something and smelling the fumes of self does not lead to digesting information, so I'm against it. Using a book in order to prop up something, well, if one's imagination and creativity is underdeveloped, what can I do :).

Books are somebody's life, thoughts and philosophy. I think good books deserve respect, quiet place and full concentration and attention. Personally, I chose my books carefully before I buy them. And E-books are the real competition to paper books. So I carefully study contents of the book, read the first paragraph, look briefly though the book and read the ending. If I like it, I buy it. I rarely have any books on the shelf which I don't ever read.
How many books have you got so far, Henk?

HbdW said...

Thank you for your comment, Grace. But the table is still wobbling: the book is too thick.
That's funny. Here books without text are only used by furniture shops. Using books as toilet paper? I should take my newspaper for it, after having it read. It's also much cheaper. Here people have calenders on the toilet, especially calenders with a text for each day. After having read it, you throw it away.
The best place in my house for reading a book with concentration is my study with all walls covered with books. I do have three or four e-books in my computer, but I never read them, although I do read (long) articles on my laptop.