If I haven't already tempted you yet by this book, here is another teaser. I was going to refrain from sharing more quotes (because most of Browse is worthy of quoting), but Michael Dirda's wonderful essay "Snow Day" just tickled my fancy and I have to share after all. He writes about a visit to the used bookstore Second Story Books a few years back when his wife was on the east coast (always so much easier to bring home a stack of books when your spouse or significant other isn't there to see) on a snow day a few years back. Dirda, in case you are not familiar, is a book critic for the Washington Post and has several books to his name . . . I own a few of them . . .).
"I've never counted how many books I own, but my attic is stuffed with genre fiction from the late nineteenth and early twentieth century--needed for a big project--and the basement is solidly packed with recent novels and non-fiction, some of it on industrial shelving but the bulk in boxes piled higgledy-piggledy. It's really quite apalling. There's also a rented storage unit, which has sucked a fortune out of me, probably more than its contents are worth. I'd estimate that I own between 15,000 and 20,000 books, conceivably more. From many quite reasonable points of view I have 'too many books', but to my mind I just need more bookshelves. Or a bigger house."
That makes absolute sense to me. I have nowhere near that many books, but I am sure that if Michael Dirda saw my bookroom, he might whistle in appreciation rather than shake his head in consternation. (And I bet he would also not ask if I had read all those books . . .).
"Yet am I, in fact, a collector?" Somewhere I read that if you couldn't lay your hands on any book you owned in five minutes, you were just an accumulator, a hoarder. I couldn't lay my hands on some of my books if I had five days to search for me. The great bibliographical scholar G. Thomas Tanselle contends that any true collection requires an overarching theme, a plan, defined limits. My only plan is to keep books I might need in my work or that I hope to read some day for my own sweet pleasure. That means Tarzan and the insidious Fu Manchu as well as Dickens and Proust. The novelist and bookseller Larry McMurtry once observed that only those with basements or storage units like mine can enjoy the highly rarefied delight of scouting their own books: you never know what might be waiting at the bottom of the next box. Of course, McMurtry used to buy entire bookshops to stock the used and rare shelves of Archer City, Texas, his American version of Hay-on-Wye."
I may not (yet?) have books in a storage unit and my basement will only give my poor books the odor of musty basement (hence it is not used for storage), but I very much enjoy that delight of scouting my own bookshelves and book piles and book bins. Maybe I will do a little scouting tonight and share what I find tomorrow . . . I always say I could "shop" from my own shelves--find books so long left unattended that I have forgotten I own them. But there is still that thrill of finding something you didn't know you needed! Definitely a worthy way of spending a (snowy in Dirda's case) weekend afternoon.