To My Unread Books

To the books on my shelf I haven’t read,

You started as a stack only eight wide held upright by Portal-themed bookends I’m way too proud of. Now, you stretch beyond my five-foot wide desk, total over sixty, and I’ve maybe read—or, if I’m being honest, paged through, skimmed, or abandoned—around…twenty.

The tendency to book hoard started by reaching for Amazon’s tactfully decorated 1-Click® Ordering button. “I’ll read this book eventually—might as well have it handy for when the time comes.” “If three friends recommend a title, I’ll buy it.” These were the private justifications I told myself. An “eventually” that has yet to arrive and countless recommendations have left me with an “antilibrary.” A collection of mostly unread books. Some tout the merits of such a library, claiming it’s a “visual reminder of what [they] don’t know.” This might be effective in small dosages. But, beyond a point, continually buying more than I could read felt less like building commonplace serendipity and more like faux-productive spending.

I was fooling myself—and yet, your unread pages might hint at roads I, at one point, wanted to venture down.

I bought The Time-Crunched Cyclist after finishing dead last in my first cycling race in ’17 (turns out training indoors all winter for an outdoor event was a rookie mistake). I probably won’t elevate cycling from a weekend hobby to a sport I compete in seriously—still, you’re a physical reminder of a dream from my past self.

I bought Learn You a Haskell for Great Good!—the often-recommended introductory text for the purely functional programming language, Haskell—out of a pang of homesickness for my education in mathematics. At times, I get tired running on the treadmill that is software engineering, where knowledge I’ve collected, even a couple of years ago, is perpetually rendered obsolete in the next couple. I miss working in a more durable—albeit abstract—world that sits parallel to our own. I wonder if I’m keeping you around for if/when I eventually step off the treadmill.

I bought Amy Saul-Zerby’s Deep Camouflage after one of her pieces, do you ever, was rotated in a modern poetry newsletter. The opening lines

do you ever stop breathing

to see if you will notice

washed away the tired residue that nonfiction has caked onto its treatment of the breath and breathing. Poetry, like mathematics, has always been a sort of “left field” I enjoy spending time in.

Thinking about it, you all—my unread tree alumni—might be more than merely impulse purchases. You’re breadcrumbs of impulses to create different versions of myself. One who’s an amateur cyclist. One who returns home to mathematics. One who gathers poetry’s adjectives and hides them in the corners of nonfiction. And for that, I’m glad you’re around. Maybe that’s the crux of why we gift books. Not so much with the expectation that our friend, loved one, or stranger reads it cover to cover. But rather, that they explore a different person we see in them.

Either way, I probably should disable 1-Click® Ordering.

With love,

Jas