My 6,128 favorite books > http://on.wsj.com/RbSI8Z
No matter what they may tell themselves, book lovers do not read primarily to obtain information or to while away the time. They read to escape to a more exciting, more rewarding world. A world where they do not hate their jobs, their spouses, their governments, their lives. A world where women do not constantly say things like “Have a good one!” and “Sounds like a plan!” A world where men do not wear belted shorts. Certainly not the Knights Templar.
I read books—mostly fiction—for at least two hours a day, but I also spend two hours a day reading newspapers and magazines, gathering material for my work, which consists of ridiculing idiots or, when they are not available, morons. I read books in all the obvious places—in my house and office, on trains and buses and planes—but I’ve also read them at plays and concerts and prizefights, and not just during the intermissions. I’ve read books while waiting for friends to get sprung from the drunk tank, while waiting for people to emerge from comas, while waiting for the Iceman to cometh. (…)
I’ve never squandered an opportunity to read. There are only 24 hours in the day, seven of which are spent sleeping, and in my view at least four of the remaining 17 must be devoted to reading.
I do not speed-read books; it seems to defeat the whole purpose of the exercise, much like speed-eating a Porterhouse steak or applying the two-minute drill to sex. I almost never read biographies or memoirs, except if they involve quirky loners like George Armstrong Custer or Attila the Hun, neither of them avid readers.
I avoid inspirational and self-actualization books; if I wanted to read a self-improvement manual, I would try the Bible. Unless paid, I never read books by or about businessmen or politicians; these books are interchangeably cretinous and they all sound exactly the same: inspiring, sincere, flatulent, deadly. Reviewing them is like reviewing brake fluid: They get the job done, but who cares?
I do not accept reading tips from strangers, especially from indecisive men whose shirt collars are a dramatically different color from the main portion of the garment. I am particularly averse to being lent or given books by people I may like personally but whose taste in literature I have reason to suspect, and perhaps even fear. (…)
Until recently, I wasn’t aware how completely books dominate my physical existence. Only when I started cataloging my possessions did I realize that there are books in every room in my house, 1,340 in all. My obliviousness to this fact has an obvious explanation: I am of Irish descent, and to the Irish, books are as natural and inevitable a feature of the landscape as sand is to Tuaregs or sand traps are to the frat boys at Myrtle Beach. You know, the guys with the belted shorts. When the English stormed the Emerald Isle in the 17th century, they took everything that was worth taking and burned everything else. Thereafter, the Irish had no land, no money, no future. That left them with words, and words became books, and books, ingeniously coupled with music and alcohol, enabled the Irish to transcend reality.
This was my experience as a child. I grew up in a Brand X neighborhood with parents who had trouble managing money because they never had any, and lots of times my three sisters and I had no food, no heat, no television. But we always had books. And books put an end to our misfortune. Because to the poor, books are not diversions. Book are siege weapons.
I wish I still had the actual copies of the books that saved my life—”Kidnapped,” “The Three Musketeers,” “The Iliad for Precocious Tykes”—but they vanished over the years. Because so many of these treasures from my childhood have disappeared, I have made a point of hanging on to every book I have bought and loved since the age of 21.
Books as physical objects matter to me, because they evoke the past. A Métro ticket falls out of a book I bought 40 years ago, and I am transported back to the Rue Saint-Jacques on Sept. 12, 1972, where I am waiting for someone named Annie LeCombe. A telephone message from a friend who died too young falls out of a book, and I find myself back in the Chateau Marmont on a balmy September day in 1995. A note I scribbled to myself in “Homage to Catalonia” in 1973 when I was in Granada reminds me to learn Spanish, which I have not yet done, and to go back to Granada.
None of this will work with a Kindle. People who need to possess the physical copy of a book, not merely an electronic version, believe that the objects themselves are sacred. Some people may find this attitude baffling, arguing that books are merely objects that take up space. This is true, but so are Prague and your kids and the Sistine Chapel. Think it through, bozos.
The world is changing, but I am not changing with it. There is no e-reader or Kindle in my future. My philosophy is simple: Certain things are perfect the way they are. The sky, the Pacific Ocean, procreation and the Goldberg Variations all fit this bill, and so do books. Books are sublimely visceral, emotionally evocative objects that constitute a perfect delivery system.
Electronic books are ideal for people who value the information contained in them, or who have vision problems, or who have clutter issues, or who don’t want other people to see that they are reading books about parallel universes where nine-eyed sea serpents and blind marsupials join forces with deaf Valkyries to rescue high-strung albino virgins from the clutches of hermaphrodite centaurs, but they are useless for people engaged in an intense, lifelong love affair with books. Books that we can touch; books that we can smell; books that we can depend on. Books that make us believe, for however short a time, that we shall all live happily ever after.