Open Letter to the Books I Check out of the Library and Never Read

Please, forgive me, umpteenth book I’ve checked out of the library and never read, but I might borrow you again later

Photo by Anna Hunko on Unsplash

Dear [insert most book titles],

I talk about you the way a 12-year-old talks about their new girlfriend who goes to a different school — a lot, in both great detail and impressive vagueness. I know what you’re about. I judge you by your cover and I do it well. I know which kind of reader would enjoy reading you. But more importantly, I know exactly how good you are (so good) and how important (so important) it is to read you right now.

I like to joke about our strictly aesthetic relationship right now, but if past me could see me now, he’d be a little sad. Don’t get me wrong, as far as bookworm origin stories go, I was a late-bloomer. I discovered my love for reading at the tail end of high school thanks to fanfiction, of all things. In my first college years, I maintained my bookworm aura for a while. I’d sneak a chair under the staircase to read a chapter or two. I’d ostentatiously lounge on tables in empty classrooms to read — chin on hands, belly on the table, feet crossed and legs in the air, an absolute cliché. Liking books was at the core of my personality, and I couldn’t let college squeeze it out of me without a fight. (I, too, was a little upset when Marie Kondo came for our books. “They all spark joy!”)

Though college ignited my passion for writing anything non-academic, it did end up winning the fight against my bookishness.

As irony would have it, though, I work in a library now. I give the occasional recommendation to unsuspecting students and teachers who might think I’ve read the many books inside this library. But actually, I’ve read none of them entirely. The idea of this open letter came to me from a book entitled, pardon my literal French, Comment Parler Des Livres Que L’on A Pas Lus ? by Pierre Bayard, or “How to Talk About the Books You Haven’t Read.” It sits at the back of the very library I work in. I checked it out so I could quote it here, but I still haven’t read it. Yep, the irony isn’t lost on me here.

I still love books, albeit in a somewhat materialistic way. It often manifests when we get heavy book deliveries. I sit on the floor with a colleague and we tear the cardboard boxes apart to reveal the new books we’ll have to laminate and put on display. My boss loves delivery days because she can serenely ‘get a feel’ of them, so she can let the titles seep into her long-term memory. Similarly, I often recommend books based on feel, the same way you ask a magic 8-ball if you really need to study for that upcoming test. Hey, no one ever complained about the book recs I’ve given, so I’m pretty sure the magic 8-ball is a fool-proof, risk-free, “60% of the time, it works every time” kind of approach.

Again, I love to joke about my lack of reading as of late. But I’ve got a B.A. in English, I work in a library, my bookshelves have an aura that reeks of humble brag, and yet, I haven’t read a single book entirely in what feels like ages. I should probably feel a bit of shame here, right? But as self-indulgent as it might seem (and it probably is a little bit), I can’t apologize for my habit of borrowing books for nothing, especially after our pandemic years. While my partner overcame her reader’s block in 2020, the pandemic exacerbated mine. I couldn’t focus on a single book or slightly long article for months in quarantine, a time where most of us had a lot more time to do… anything.

Quarantine stripped many things away from us, including the opportunity to waste your library card on books you probably already know you won’t finish reading. But to me, there’s no waste in this behavior, quite the opposite. Borrowing books is an act of hope, an act that confirms that despite the knowledge that you might not read them because of X reason, you haven’t given up on reading. If you still manage to borrow books right now, I like to think you’re still on the right track.

The book I planned on quoting in this letter is still by my side as I write this, and I’ll have to give it back next week. I most likely won’t have read it by then, so, please forgive my self-indulgence, umpteenth book I’ve checked out of the library and haven’t read, but I might borrow you again later. Who knows? As they say, if not today, maybe tomorrow.

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