This is embarrassing, but I own books which I have never read. Some of those unread books have been on the shelf for many years. No, I am not a hoarder, nor a procrastinator. It is just that I have collected books since I was a child, finding help in them and regarding the authors as friends who felt what I felt, who had searched for and found what I was still searching for, and who were always there for me. I related to them, to their descriptions and insight, even if they were written in another century and in a faraway place, and even if my classmates did not think the library was equal to the playground.
Books consist of words, and the words have meanings. Books can be read as consumerism, such as often happens in higher education, or they can be integrated into the heart and mind with understanding and relationship. Yes, there is a relationship with books. I feel that I have a relationship with my whole library and with each book in particular, even the ones which I have yet to read. They are a part of my home, along with all my other things such as appliances and furniture. They enable me to function, to get things done, to express thoughts and feelings, and to study and ponder. Moreover, they inspire me to do my own writing.
We connect with the meanings of the words in books, with the person who experienced life in that way and who shared whatever he or she had to give — and they try to give us their best despite their personal flaws. I think Charles Dickens did that, even as Pip grew up and I had the opportunity to grow with him. Robert Frost did that, and occasionally I still contemplate the path not taken. St. John of Kronstadt did that, even as he shines a guiding light on the path which I took. Yes, those are relationships open to anyone who reads those books in any place and at any time. The experiences are valid and the truths are eternal.
When books are read as consumerism, then the reader becomes a walking-talking publication, lacking helpful application and incapable of relationship. The words no longer have meanings because they are dissociated from the flow of life and love. Sometimes, the words become harmful because they are loosed from human involvement, detached from the author and imposed on the listener, reducing knowledge to technicalities and mutating nourishment into judgment. Words, and the understanding of the meanings of words, are not sterile; not existing in a vacuum, not separated from our being or from God Who gave us the gift of language. We communicate non-verbally as well, but written words fill our libraries and bookstores and then we often speak about or from what we have read.
Maybe I should not be embarrassed over the books I bought and never read. Maybe I will read them next year as circumstances direct me to acquire greater depth and breadth, and greater vision and hope during my remaining days on earth. Or maybe I should guard against consuming those books just because they are there, just because I already bought them, just because I tenderly stored them all these years. Then again, maybe I need to recapture some of the enthusiasm and vitality of my youthful days, and maybe those books are the key.