Reading by Osmosis

Do you ever take books to bed with you? I don’t mean reading before you turn off the light. I mean taking books, multiple books, to bed and sleeping with them.

I used to do this a lot before I was married. Sometimes it was too difficult to commit to reading just one book at bed-time, so I’d grab two or three, knowing full well I’d wind up dozing off with the light still on. I stopped, because my husband understandably is not keen on sharing the bed with a nocturnal makeshift library, but I miss it. If there is not enough time in life to read every book, you can at least have many books close to you. 

To be surrounded by books, even books we don’t read or open, is both a privilege and a burden; having moved four times in as many years, we’ve whittled our books down to what we deem the bare necessities, and even then the shelving and organizing of books is always the most toilsome moving-in task. At those times, I feel like our books own us.

One solution? Read Unpacking My Library: Writers and Their Books, in which writers share their own book-keeping habits. It’s a bibliophile’s voyeuristic fantasy come true. Leah Price, a professor of English at Harvard, interviewed the authors and took photos of the bookcases, both elegant and makeshift, that dominate their dwellings. Junot Diaz has a few volumes of the O.E.D. that are still in shrink-wrap. Jonathan Lethem’s books are pleasingly, exactingly arranged. Phillip Pullman’s books overrun his house, spilling off shelves and teetering in stacks.

I was happily engrossed in Unpacking My Library while my husband was trying to hold conversation. “Are you even listening to me?” he asked. No, I was not. I was reading a book about the books owned by people who write books. I bet at least one of them takes books to bed, too.