Blimey. On the back of my last post about bookshelves, I get home and find Charlie Brooker has wailed about his heaving shelves; Lucy Mangan is singing the praises of the Billy bookcase (if she has 21 of them in her house this may suggest LM has more books than we do: this feels wrong); and then Susan Hill is on Front Row 5/10/09 on about her new book on not buying new books for a year - and reading/rereading her existing provisions (Howard's End is on the Landing: A Year of Reading From Home).
Charlie Brooker points up the dangers of ending up not reading the same book twice (on which point, Neil have you even read one of the editions of Milan Kundera's Immortality that you ended up owning?); being oppressed by choice and by commitment - how do you justify watching comforting crap when you haven't yet watched that worthy drama? and DVD boxsets, we're looking at you; and the potential benefits of being limited in what you can watch and read.
The first comment ties up nicely to Susan Hill's point: that it is all too easy to end up just accumulating more rather than dealing with what we have. Indeed, although we're prodigious readers in our house, I suspect there may be far more unread tomes lurking on our shelves than Neil or I would like to admit. But Charlie's second point then kicks in: virtue over pleasure. I know there are things I should watch/read, that I am even fairly certain I would get something out of, but when time is short it is hard to justify finding enough time to appreciate. Movies of 3 hours plus? That's either an early start to the evening or a very late night. Long books, or worthy books? That's concentration and a lot of hours. Multiply by X for those seductive boxsets. Which of course ties up to Charlie's third point on choice: would it be better to have less choice?
It can be too easy to take for granted the freedoms we have in what we can watch and read, but that doesn't mean that aren't benefits in more controlled activities. I don't think I'd want to have 'the man' knocking at the door each month with my regulation text, but there is a lot to be said for the 'guided reading' of doing a course or joining a book/film club. Not least the communal aspect of communicating about the text with others.
And what of Susan Hill's ideas? Well, I was certainly reassured by her attitude on Jane Austen (not a great fan, likes Northanger Abbey best), especially since the most enjoyable Austen I've read recently was the hysterical re-visioning of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Definitely Austen's best work (with Seth Grahame-Smith making a significant contribution). And I liked the idea of re-evaluating works to see if they hold up to the passion and enthusiasm they instilled first time round. Or even just finding time to get into the rhythm of reading at length - something I've been trying to do more of recently, with some degree of success.
Above all, as much as I sympathise with the frustration of Brooker, I'm leaning more to the bookshelf filling enthusiasm of Mangan and the 'ways of re-evaluating' of Hill. I don't want to stop getting hold of new stuff, but I do want to find ways to keep up more with reading what I already have - or making the valuable decision to allow someone else to have the pleasure/pain of the item. I'm still seduced by the boxset and the appealing cover/title, but I don't want to be beholden to the new and yet more.
There has to be a middle way of appreciating what there is already whilst allowing the self to offload or admit defeat on all the things that we haven't got around to reading/watching.