So what are books good for, besides leveling tables and holding open doors? Reading? Well, not necessarily:
I recently had a conversation with Elazar Benyoëtz, a German poet-o-philosopher, about the object called a book. He believes that “people are misunderstanding the function of books; books are not meant, necessarily, to be read”.
According to Benyoëtz, books are potentials. If you wish, they are the early ancestors of Schrödinger’s cat. As long as they are not read, standing still on the shelf or piled up on the floor, they represent a potential parallel world. Once they are opened – well, at that point the potential is gone.
“I find it much more fascinating to write about a book that I have never read than about a book that I have read”, says Benyoëtz, following the logic of books-as-potentials.
Benyoëtz is serious about the impact of closed books, of those potentials, on his existence. The lives of potential-readers are affected by their physical proximity to books, as if those potential-worlds exert their gravitational power from within the cover. “I would have been a completely different writer if I didn’t have those books around me, just as I would have been a completely different writer if I have read them”.
While I don’t necessarily agree with Mr. Benyoëtz, romanticizer of the author that I am, he does make me feel a whole lot better about the mass of unread books on my shelves. Of course, thinking of their gravitational power forces a new worry on me: what if they collapse and turn into a black hole?