May 2010 | L. D. Mitchell

Does Book Collecting Require Deep Reading?

Have you actually read all the books in your personal library?  90% of them?  50%? Have you read any of them?

Some collectors don't add any books to their private library unless (1) they already have read the book or (2) they intend to read the book.  But not everyone collects books for their informational content.  Some folks are interested primarily in the bindings, or the illustrations, or the typography...reading often is neither anticipated nor required.

Even folks who collect books for their informational content often find that their intentions to read fail to keep pace with their urges to acquire.  What I wonder, though, is this: if reading the books that one collects is important to one's book collecting endeavors, what happens to  such endeavors if one's ability or capacity to read begins to rapidly diminish?

I am not concerned about just any type of reading, but specifically the deep reading that Birkerts (Gutenberg Elegies, 1994) suggested is demanded by works like traditional literary fiction.  Has the infoglut of our modern age, which rewards infosurfing instead of sustained, concentrated engagement with an often complex text, made it more difficult for you to read deeply?  

When was the last time that you read for pleasure a long, complex book?  

Did such reading require a more deliberate, concentrated effort that in times past (i.e., did goings-on outside the pages of your book easily distract you)?  

If maintaining serious engagement with a long, complex book has become more difficult for you, has this difficulty had any impact on the type or number of books that you collect...?