You look to your shelf and notice the most recent books you’ve bought. Price tags peeled, spines smooth. You flit your eyes to the next-most recent ones, self-consciousness creeping in. You haven’t bought the book on the Persian empire you picked up two years ago, and here you are placing a pristine new copy of Calasso’s The Celestial Hunter on the shelf, probably (let’s be real) not to be read for a few more months, if ever.
Why do you do this? Is it because you’re an idiot? A spendthrift? A quasi-literate baboon trying to convince yourself you still remember how to parse texts longer than 280 characters?
No, you’re not doing anything amiss. (lol listen to me, “amiss.”) You’re caught in the grip of something your bones know but your mind has forgotten:
Books are talismanic objects.
You feel it, don’t you?, the doors to deeper realms of history and being that open when you find yourself deep in the library stacks?
Each bookstore is somehow a crossroads, isn’t it? A nexus where paths lead out to a trillion possible worlds, past present and future.
That last book you bought, go pick it up. Hold it in your hands. Feel its weight, its texture. Let your eyes soak in the cover art, the title. Feel how your viscera start to tell another story now—how there’s something you long for in this physical object. Some person you want to be, or world you want to live in.
Here, let’s try something.
Pick out a few unread books from your shelf.
Holding each of them, one by one, see if you can notice your answers to a few questions:
In a best-case fantasy scenario, what is your life like after reading and absorbing this book?
Do you need the information in this book, or is your hope more to marinate in the vibe?
If the former, what will change after you know the information in the book? Who will you be? What will the world be?
If the latter, what will change once you’ve soaked in the vibe? Who will you be? What will the world be?
When you hold the book, can you feel a connection to the person you want to be, the imagined future self who was changed by this book? —Can you embody that person a bit more right now, without reading the book?
Really, try it out. Pick up some of your books and feel through these questions.
You get the idea.
In many cases, arguably most cases, you can actually achieve the deeper goals that drove you to buy the book without actually reading the book. The book itself is more talismanic than causative.
That said, rule one of talismans is that you have to charge them. You have to imbue them with weight, with psychic gravity. You have to pour time and energy and importance into them, so they pull at you, tug your life towards the attractors they embody.
With this particular type of talisman, one of the most effective ways of charging it is, you guessed it: reading.
But there’s a spectrum to these things.
On the Weak Talisman side of the spectrum, there’s simply having the book on your shelf, pristine and unread. Seeing it and having it in your space exerts a tiny pull, and is always a near-at-hand portal to the intention it represents for you.
On the Strong Talisman side of the spectrum, there’s reading the book, journaling about it, highlighting, underlining, dog-earing pages, lending it to friends, taking long walks to think about it, etc.
(Out past the far end of the spectrum, there are things like the exercise we tried above: making your intentions for the book more conscious, journaling on them, meditating on them, adopting habits and practices that further those intentions and deepen them into your life…)
Books are not for reading.
Reading the book is a side effect of effectively charging it, turning it into a strong attractor for your intention—but reading’s not the primary purpose.
I don’t relate to the unread books on my shelf as failures or delays or silly magpie hoarding—they’re just talismans awaiting stronger psychic gravity.
I discovered this while trying to figure out why I held so tightly to my college textbooks.
Did I expect to finally learn the math that eluded me 10 years ago? Well, maybe in another 30 years, but that's not why I keep them.
They represent the knowing that, even if unknown to me, is deeply valuable to know exists.
And now? Tension relieved.
Yes. And as a tsundoku and as an Umberto Eco antilibrary