Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Surrounded by Books

I live surrounded by books. This is true physically and metaphorically. I am what I have read. In fact I have a book addiction: I am convinced that the next book I read will at last answer all my questions, so I buy lots of books. It never works, of course, so I buy lots more. I am forever skimming magazines for ads regarding new books, and then rush to my computer to order just those that will answer all my questions.

I know it doesn’t work, but I do it anyway. It is a compulsion. I am an addict. True, given all the other addictions one might have, an addiction to books is not so bad. It would even be better if I actually read the books I buy. The truth is, however, that after reading just a few pages I realize that I have read this book before—not this actual book by this particular author, but the same ideas. In a sense I keep buying the same books over and over and over again. The joys of addiction.

Everyone once in a while I pretend I’m going to change. I sift through all my books and cull the best, and donate the rest to the library at Middle Tennessee State University. That way I still have access to them if I need them without having to stare at them day in and day out.

It’s getting to be another of these “once in a while” moments.

There are only ten books that I really need: The Book by Alan Watts, The First and Last Freedom by J. Krishnamurti, I & Thou by Martin Buber, Nature by Ralph Waldo Emerson, the Tao te Ching by Lao Tzu, The Inner Chapters by Chuang Tzu, and the biblical books of Proverbs, Job, Ecclesiastes, and John. Together these form the library from which I invent my philosophy of life.

I am tempted to donate all but these ten to the library, but I doubt I’ll ever do so.

First, because I love other books by these authors, and like having them around. Second, because there are other authors I value highly and prefer to not live without: Spinoza, Kafka, Nachman of Breslov, Edmund Jabes, Hermann Hesse, Rumi, Bankei, Blake, Marshal McLuhan, Erich Fromm, and William James.

No, the first step toward literary sobriety isn’t getting rid of more books, but stop buying new ones. I should just reread the 21 authors listed here, and maybe I will.

It’s just that a bunch of new magazines came in yesterday, and there are so many interesting books being advertised, and I am certain that one of them will answer all my questions. So I will get to the books on my shelves just as soon as I add a few more to them.


ableiserson said...

But you are a Rabbi! Of course to read is to be.

Karen said...

I have the same addiction! And the same problem of wanting to read what I've bought but actually referring back to the same set of books over and over. At least my addiction isn't as bad as one of my friends -- eight 6-ft tall bookshelves double-stacked (one set pushed back with another set in front). I feel sad for her books -- how can you know what you have if they are hidden?

Some of my favorites - Rabbi Rami Shapiro (you!), Gregg Braden, Ernest Holmes, Deepak Chopra among others.

Thank you for sharing your list of "needs"!

Gail Wiggin said...

Still think you might want to take a look at Seyyed Nasr's Knowledge and the Sacred, especially Chapter 4 on Scientia Sacra. Who knows...

forrest said...

I really like what you found in 'John' (ie in Rami M. Shapiro, “Listening to Jesus with An Ear For God") but when I myself read 'John', I mostly find these childish arguments between "Jesus" and "the Jews", that sound like any conversation that ever was between someone who's found God vs people who've stuffed their heads so far up into some religion that they can't pull them out to look...

So, how do you filter this stuff?

I mean, I've had the insight you were talking about, but when I go looking for it in 'John', all that I find is the stuff that gets in the way!

& I still think, that's the one insight that (no matter how much it sometimes confuses me, at least!) has the potential to rescue people from the sufferings of Job (which led him, in the end, to say, "I'd heard of You via hearsay, but now I _see_ You.")

But then God Godself had no other way (it seems) of conveying "It" to Job. (& consider our contemporaries, muddling toward It in "the best of all possible ways". But having a rough time, none the less! Will we be given a better way to get people There before "we" collectively do ourselves serious harm, as keeps looking so imminent?)