For the last several days I've had the sudden and general urge to buy a new book. I've stopped off at a few bookstores around the city, and while I've looked at hundreds and hundreds of books in that time, I have not found the one book that will satisfy my urge. It's not as if I don't have anything to read; there's a tower of perfectly good unread books next to my bed, not to mention the shelves of books in the living room I've been meaning to reread. I find myself, maddeningly, hungry for the next one, as yet unknown. I no longer try to analyze this hunger; I capitulated long ago to the book lust that's afflicted me most of my life. I know enough about the course of the disease to know I'll discover something soon.
If you read one book a week, starting at the age of 5, and live to be 80, you will have read a grand total of 3,900 books, a little over one-tenth of 1 percent of the books currently in print.
A bran' new book is a beautiful thing, all promise and fresh pages, the neatly squared spine, the brisk sense of a journey beginning. But a well-worn book also has its pleasures, the soft caress and give of the paper's edges, the comfort, like an old shawl, of an oft-read story.
We are much more likely to be drawn to a messy bookstore than a neat one because the mess signifies vitality. We are not drawn to a bookstore because of tasteful, Finnish shelves in gunmetal gray mesh, each one displaying three carefully chosen, color-coordinated covers. Clutter -- orderly clutter, if possible -- is what we expect. Like a city. It's not quite a city unless there's more than enough.
I've had many more thousands of books in my possession than my shelves at home would indicate. At one time, I tried to keep them all, but that quest soon became impossible; I now only keep the ones I'm sure I'm going to reread, the ones I'm definitely going to read before I die, and the ones I can't bear to part with because of an aesthetic or emotional attachment.