x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

You haven't read this yet? Time to clear your head then

Every book collecting dust on my shelf is a weight on my mind.

There they sit, taunting me. Day after day. Judging me.

Books. Or, rather, unread books. We persist with the charade that the unspoken promise we made when we purchased you would one day be fulfilled. And so we carry you around: forever unread, in an ever-growing library, until you are nothing but clutter.

It's not only the books that - realistically - we will never read that look down on us. But also the ones we finished, which are now nothing more than trophies.

More clutter. Physical clutter, mental clutter.

What makes us slaves to these books, unable to let go of them? Their self-evident, intrinsic intellectual value, you might say. But surely a book is more valuable being read than collecting dust on an Ikea bookshelf, a grim fate that not even John Grisham paperbacks deserve.

Sure, we all have favourites we go back to. I've lost count of the times I've laughed to The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, or Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. But let's not kid ourselves that these are anything but exceptions. The majority, even ones that have bought us immense joy, are now nothing more than prizes that we stick on our shelves as a monument to our intellect. An intellect that is now collecting dust and turning yellow.

While some books remain unread, others are simply unreadable. Treat with extreme suspicion those who claim to have finished, or enjoyed, reading Moby Dick. And to a lesser extent, War and Peace. Or anything by Shakespeare.

Such is people's attraction to the so-called classics. In reality, a book's "worthiness" is inversely proportional to the likelihood it will get a second, if indeed a single, reading. With box-sets to watch, music and films to download, and a Facebook "personality" to update, who has got time to read Ulysses?

Of course, for many people, half the fun of reading books, like dating attractive girls, is showing off to their friends about it. But then, most people have also read TheDa Vinci Code, and so are not to be trusted. "You must read this," they say. "I can't believe you haven't read that."

This is the literary Fascists' greatest delusion. Millions of books exist: statistically speaking, the probability of any particular person having read a particular book (with the obvious exception of Harry Potter, of course) is practically zero. You're better advised reading books that you enjoy, peer-pressure free.

Take The Lord of The Rings trilogy, the literary equivalent of Led Zeppelin albums: you either love them or don't get them. But never judge those who haven't read them, particularly if they enjoy a healthy social life and, crucially, work for living.

"The book is always better than the movie," is another pretension - apart from comparing apples and oranges - that can easily be disproved. For one, perhaps the greatest film of all time, The Godfather, comfortably outclasses the Mario Puzo novel that spawned it. And I can only guess that the film version of Herman Melville's whale-spearing saga is marginally less mind-numbing than the book: "Tick follows tock follows tick follows tock." Not exactly riveting reading.

Not that I'm suggesting we pulp away complete libraries, Fahrenheit 451-style. Lifetimes have been spent building up extensive libraries made up of indispensable tomes. Some books have sentimental value, others academic. Many are practical guides. All are bookmarks in our lives.

But if, like me, your books have come to own you, it's time to get rid of the guilt. Give them away as Christmas cards. Better still, give them to people for whom you don't usually buy presents. Or a charity.

Let someone else enjoy them. Or be judged by them. Whatever. Your living space, and your conscience, will be clutter-free.

Who knows, I might even find a taker for the most unreadable one of all: Marcel Proust's In Search of Lost Time. Haven't you read that one yet?

 

akhaled@thenational.ae

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