Graham Harman recently posted on a topic near and dear to my heart:
Just now I entered that Bains book into my catalog, and saw that I own a total 1,614 books. It’s a large number, though certainly not in the big leagues of book collections of people in my age group.
It occurred to me that although they were once my dearest possession, that is now far from being the case. In fact, I wish I could snap my fingers and turn most of them into pulp. I’d really rather have them on an electronic device than in paper form, where they are simply a burden on my mobility.
There are a few exceptions, of course. Either books that special people gave to me, or ones that I read with an especial impact that is tied in memory to the physical copy of the book rather than just to the book as an abstract content that can be reprinted at will. If I had to flee the proverbial flood or nuclear power accident, those are the ones I would take.
He makes a valid point. Once you accumulate enough books, they tie you down and become costly and inefficient to move. What good are books then? For me, the power of the book lies in its ability to serve as an external symbol of knowledge and wisdom. When I look at my book collection, I am presented with a visual representation of my accumulated knowledge and wisdom. I can trace my intellectual development and reflect on what I have learned over the years. The twists and turns of my intellectual interest become visually manifest in a material form. My book collection is literally a symbol for my mind. If died tomorrow and someone wanted to know what ideas shaped my life and thought, delving into my book collection would be the most direct route.
A BBC News article recently reached a similar conclusion when asking “What does your bookcase say about you?”
“Books somehow reflect an aspect of our personality that people don’t easily see. I have a friend who has a reputation for being an ice queen, but when I went to her place, I noticed all these cheesy romantic novels in her bookcases.”