I spend a ridiculous amount of money on books. The above photograph is probably the first of four purchases I'm going to make this month. I probably spend more on books every year than I've ever spent on clothes. That's the point. Not to blame my parents or fate, my appearance really is unimprovable. My mind, however, is not.
A book stays on the shelf. It stays there as long as you want it to. You will not outgrow it. It is an investment in your mind, an add-on that will not depreciate. That is, unless you're the person who has Stephenie Meyer and Chetan Bhagat on your shelf.
In that case, here's Christopher Hitchens with some advice on alcohol.
Even if it makes you look like a brand snob, do specify a label when ordering spirits in particular. I once researched this for a solemn article and found that if you just ask for, say, vodka-and-tonic the barman is entitled to give you whatever he has on hand, which is often a two-handled jug labeled “Vodka” under the bar. It can be even worse with scotch, where imitation blends are rife. Pick a decent product and stay with it. Upgrade yourself, for Chrissake. Do you think you are going to live forever?
The same is true for books. I'm perfectly fine with you reading what you want. But if you're still stuck with your third-rate brew, then it might be time to take a sip of Mr. Walker to see what it tastes like. I, for one, do not know what Mr. Walker's surely fine product tastes like, but I do know what a good book feels like.
So then, you may ask, what of my passbook? What if I have more pressing needs? What if I need to save up for an iPhone, or this Hand of the King brooch?
Well, in that case, you have two options.
- Buy the fucking book and think about the brooch later. Considering how much you spend on Netflix and Targaryen Tie-Pins, you can afford a book.
- If you really don't have the money, go to your public library and borrow books. If you can't afford a subscription, read there for an hour a day.
Diamonds are a scam. Book are forever. So, since I just berated two authors, what makes for a good book?
A good book, in my view, is like Michael Lewis's The New New Thing, like Walter Isaacson's Kissinger, like Albert Camus's The Plague, like J.M Coetzee's In the Heart of the Country.
A good book is thrilling, in the most literal sense of the word.
Not in the Ludlum way, where each book has a title like The Gemini Contenders or The Bancroft Strategy. (The London literary elite used to play an interesting game, which Salman Rushdie always won. Take a Shakespeare play, and imagine what title Robert Ludlum would give it. Othello, for example, became The Kerchief Implication, and Macbeth became The Dunsinane Reforestation. The Ludlum novel is literary laziness of the most base kind.)
No, a thrilling book gives you what the French call frisson. The tingle down the spine, the short feeling of excitement, the goosebumps that come with a Eureka. It might come during the middle of a movie, a book, a conversation... It might even arrive in the middle of a MUN, where you think of a new idea, a new solution. That's what makes for a good book, as well. The sense that you're reading a new story or a new idea.
For the reader, that's The New New Thing. That's what I live for. I live for the frisson. I live for the throb.
I have a couple of books still on my reading list this summer. Don't stare. Buy the fucking books.
- David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell
- Night by Elie Wiesel
- A Bend in the River by Naipaul
- The Undoing Project by Michael Lewis
- Thinking Fast, And Slow by Daniel Kahneman