To own or not to own?

Lev_1"I’m reading a fabulous new book by Steve Leveen (owner of Levenger) called The Little
Guide to Your Well-Read Life
. It’s a very eloquent love-letter to a life of
reading, with some nice practical tips on how to squeeze more time for reading
out of a hectic schedule.

Interestingly, one of his key ideas is something that is totally at odds with
my prevailing philosophy of books in the past year or so. As I’ve mentioned here
before, I’ve been purging my library of everything except those books which I
have read, enjoyed, and read again; everything else has gone either to a
second-hand store or to a library. My philosophy is that if I ever want to read
any of those unread books that had been sitting around for years, I can borrow
them from the library when the time comes, and in the mean time they might be
doing someone else some good.

Leveen, though, champions the concept of a “Library of Candidates,” a
collection of books you own that you hope to read some day. Note that he does
not say you necessarily will read them – just that you might. And he
makes some interesting points, channelling great readers like Winston Churchill
to emphasize the idea that merely owning a book has psychological benefit,
whether you ever read it or not…"

James Bickers

11 thoughts on “To own or not to own?

  1. Interesting James, and something I’ve been wrestling with for the last year as well. Ultimately, I’ve decided to purge my library of anything that doesn’t fall into three categories: 1) I will read it within six months, 2) I need it for some perceived research within the near future (and as a tie breaker, if it’s something that’s hard to obtain), and 3) sentimental or “special” books I’m not likely to stumble upon again.

    Leveen’s observations are interesting, but let’s remember he’s a very rich man with undoubtedly a very large house (translation: he doesn’t have to worry about moving his books or space concerns or tying up $$ in something one can’t eat if times get bad). I’m a fan of Levenger’s, but for the most part they live a fairly tale existence and so I tend to filter the wisdom he lays down as coming from the perspect of the idle rich.

  2. A refreshing way to release the guilt for things that “should” be done. As an avid needleworker with less time than ambitions, I have to admit to a secret stash of glorious materials and patterns that stand little chance of becoming finished products in the course of a single lifetime. I guess I like the idea of potentials–a vast array of candidates from which to select–and the act of selecting becomes part of the art. How lucky we are to have such choices! May we live long and never run out of books to read, songs to sing, foods to savor, wines to age, needles to thread, or creamy blank pages to fill with measured words from a carefully chosen pen.

  3. There’s something hinky about reading a book that tells you to read books. I guess its no hinkier than writing in a notebook about how much you love this notebook.

    I am trying to read a lot more these days now that I’ve finally realized how crappy TV and most movies really are (although I both thank and curse God for the Tivo). Here are a few tips I picked up:

    – Carry a book with you all the time. Right now I’m paging very slowly through HP Lovecraft’s “At the Mountains of Madness” which is probably too painful a read for a subway read, but there it is.

    – Read every day before bed for 30 minutes. I’m getting much better at this as long as I enjoy the books I’m reading. I just finished R.R. Martin’s “Game of Thrones” and am going to finishe 2001 by Clarke tonight.

    – Unabridged Books on CD will save your life. I commute about an hour or two a day and books on CD fill that time with some excellent stories. I will buy a book on CD, rip it to MP3 and listen to it on my iPod. I recently went through the Lord of the Rings, The Dark Tower books, The Talisman, Black House, and a bunch of other stuff this way. Itunes also carries some horrible DRM-encrypted books that can pass the time. I just finished Arthur C. Clarke’s “Nine Billion Names of God” including the awesome story: The Star. Books on Tape / CD / MP3 added another hour of reading into my day.

    – Read good books. I find that bad books make my mind wander off while good books demand my attention. It took me forever to slog through Jordan’s Eye of the World but I raced through Game of Thrones. One demanded my attention and the other lost me in 100 pages of rainy cart travel. Good writing is good writing whatever the source or subject. I do find it hard to keep attention on Robert Howard’s Conan stories and Lovecraft’s tales but they’re good enough that its worth fighting the language to get to the gem within. If a book is taking too much time to get through, toss it aside and grab something good.

    What other tips did this book have for squeezing more reading into one’s life?

  4. A library of candidates?
    Perfect! I’ve been looking for a rationale for not thinning the hoard, and now I’ve got it!

  5. I ordered the audiobook for $12 to listen to on my commutes. That doesn’t freak me out as much as reading a book about reading during my reading time where I should be reading a book about something other than reading if you get my drift.

  6. Interesting, Mike … for some reason, books about reading have been clicking with me lately. I’m a big fan of Susan Wise Bauer (“The Well-Educated Mind”), Mortimer Adler (“How to Read a Book”), and have considered looking into Harold Bloom, but I’m resisting it because he’s just too damn pretentious and arrogant (his anti-Harry Potter rants have soured me on him).

    Leveen spends a great deal of time extolling the wonders of audiobooks – making the point that oral storytelling came first, and that the printed word is a fairly recent “innovation.” I’m of two minds about it, but I have enjoyed audiobooks in the past – and since I too have a one-hour commute round-trip every day, I might take your advice and look at them again …

    Oh, by the way, I interviewed Leveen yesterday for my radio show – his Library of Candidates consists of 300-some books at home, and an equal number at the office. So yeah, he’s got space to store them …

  7. If you like the genre, Stephen King’s “Dark Tower” series is the best audio book (and book series in general) that I ever “Read”. Its really great.

    With all of my pompous snobbery, I did order and plan to “read” Well Read Life. My big problem right now is the horrible Digital Rights Management they put on digital audio books. Why can’t I just get it on MP3 so I can listen to it when and where I want?

    What other tips do people have for ways to sneak in more reading?

  8. I bought the book a couple weeks ago. It’s a great read. Steve Leveen really brings you clear on prioritizing and researching and directing your reading so you are reading the best stuff available. The books that will have you be in on-going book love as he calls it. He also talks about the value of surrounding yourself with the books you intend to read – for the joy of it – and so you always have great books at hand rather than succumb to reading anything handy. I agree there’s some truth that he’s got lots of money so can afford the space having lots of books takes. What I’m doing right now is using Delicious Library to catalog my books and then analyze what kinds of books really do it for me. Some of those that don’t will be kissed goodbye. I plan to reorganize my books so that the best ones are visible and findable. Getting rid of the *failure* books is something that Leeven would support wholeheartedly.

  9. Some of the comments have suggested that having a lot of books takes a lot of money. Perhaps, if you are collecting first editions and new hardbacks. But there are many ways to amass a Library of Candidates. When I look at my shelves now, I realize that they were fattened by sales at the Goodwill, library give-aways, used book fairs, yard sales, and the kindnesses of friends and family. I hardly ever actually bought a new book. As for space, well, that is the Final Frontier!

  10. I’ve started listening today. He’s a bit flowery with the metaphors and I can’t trust anyone who loves books about knots and tomatos. There feels like a bit of self gratification and I can’t help but wonder if Levenger further promotes his industry by getting us to buy books we might not read.

    All of that negativity said, I do keep quite a big library of “candidates” including Hugo and Nebula books I haven’t read yet and a bunch of other SF / Fantasy novels I’ve been meaning to read.

  11. Price helpers:

    1. Half-Price Books. If you don’t have one in your city, *move*.

    2. Order cheap used paperback copies thru Amazon or other online book store. Order several at a time to save on shipping and choose the cheapest shipping option (these are your “someday” books, no need to do FedEx overnight).

    3. Check The Gutenberg Project — many classics are available there free for the downloading.

    Sure you say you can get books for two bits each at yard sales, but it’s only by chance that you’ll find the ones on your list (unless your list is made up exclusively of Stephen King novels, in which case you should seek professional help to address your serious lack of literary acumen, rather than spending your time searching yard to yard for one you don’t have).

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