The point of an unread book

I have a large pile of blissfully unread books on my bedside table.  See:

Some of them I had before ‘the incident’, (e.g. the Blair autobiography: a.k.a masterclass in managing crises).   One of them I got as a result of the incident (Don’t Leave Me This Way Or When I Get Back You’ll Be Sorry seemed like it might be my kind of book).  Some of them are recommendations for my MSc (e.g. The Psychology of Military Incompetence and The Road to Kandahar). One I got because of a friend in need (Shoot the Damn Dog).  And some are delicious presents. Eat, Pray, Love sent by Claudia who says I finally have to read the book everyone else has read; In Tearing Haste was part of my birthday present from my dad to indulge my forever fascination with the Mitford Sisters (which, if you’re reading, is actually all your fault, Mary V). The others just looked interesting.

The irony is this, of course.  When I was properly sick, and had loads of time available to read, I couldn’t read.  Well, I could read the words and tell you what they meant, but reading the words didn’t tell me the story in the way it usually does.*  When I was less sick I couldn’t be bothered to read because it took too much brain power to do it.  When I was even less sick I had other things to do.  And when I got back on track I had essays to catch up on.  And now I’m back at work, as well as the essays and a pending dissertation, there is a need to turn lights off to go to sleep early without picking up a book which will keep me up until the wee hours.

So the books are still there.  Unread, unloved, and waiting to be read.  I might slip through one or two before the end of the year but, basically, I think my beautiful pile of pages is going to grow right up until my MSc dissertation is handed in.

Until I started my MSc I’d literally read every book I owned, and I own a lot of books, and I also walk to and from work so there is no tube travel time included there.  Now I have little piles scattered across the house, with the plum prizes on the bedside table.

I look at them.  Occasionally I decide I can take one of them to the bath instead of an academic paper and a pen. But I haven’t actually made time to sit down and read them.  There are too many other things to do.

Which got me to thinking, in that existential way that one does at 6am on a Saturday when they are awake, but know that turning on a light and pulling out a book would be a dumb thing to do at that time in the morning when there’s resting to be done…

What is the point of an unread book?

Roll with it for a while… ponder it… see what you come up with, perhaps.


* This is actually quite hard to explain… I could get to page 20 of a book and have no idea what it was about.  I could name the characters and tell you what they were doing. But I would not have thought about why they were doing it in a way that makes the words a story.  For example, I’d have had to go back and look and work out – deliberately – why they were calling the police, even though I’d just read about the discovery of a dead body.  And I wouldn’t even have clocked I didn’t know what was going on, only that it wasn’t having any fun reading it.  Um… does that help explain it?  Who knows, but it’s all I’ve got so…!



  1. SteveG says:

    What’s the point of books that HAVE been read? You’re never going to read them again and they’re just taking up space that could be used for now adventures. Yet we cling to them like distant memories of times gone past, perhaps in the vain hope of recapturing our youth or better times before. Imagine for a moment that every book in your house had been replaced with an unread one. What a world of possibilities awaits…

  2. Lori Witham says:

    I just replied to a later post of yours. I just had a stroke 2 months ago. But mine was on the right side. So at first when I tried reading my brain just saw the letters. Later like you it took too much brain power. Then I began reading out loud to practice speaking and I found that I was focusing on speaking the words correctly, but totally missed the content to know what it meant. It still takes concentration. So I will read “Jane” “went” “to” “the” “store”, but if you ask me who did what, I wouldn’t know because I wasn’t concentrating on that. It’s actually a multi-tasking skill.

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