I like to read, me. If I don’t do it daily I get a rash and if I don’t go to a bookshop (usually a charity shop) every 48 hours I feel unsettled. I have a lot of books on my shelves and I hope I will be able to read them all. I have calculated that I will be dead long before I succeed in so doing. It is not as if I have stopped collecting in order to read what I’ve got. I add to the collection every few days, transferring my allegiances from the last crush to the next pash in a coldly fickle moment.
I would like to read all the books that I would like to read but I’d need a parallel life in which I simply circumambulated my capacious library whilst drinking real ale and swimming.
The pathology of plenitude is upon us. Too much stuff, too little time. What to do? Give up, obviously. Try not to think about box sets. Abstain from secondary stimulants such as magazines designed to induce purchase. Dip toes in the weir of nonchalance. Say ‘I know enough already.’ Or ‘I will stop now and let culture swim before me until I am just a figure at the bus-stop as culture rolls towards the horizon leaving flared trousers in its wake.’
Thanks to the ever-rewarding Things Magazine I learn that Penguin have issued the Penguin Classics Library Complete Collection, comprising 1,082 titles and retailing at $13,315.84. With an Amazon discount of 40% this works out at a trifling $7,989.50.
I am not remotely tempted. Were money no object I would not part with the requisite sum. Besides, I read at least seven of them at Uni. But as Completions go, this one is up there with The Assembled Nouvelle Vague, Its Antecedents, Its Tendencies and Its Divers Spawn, a 60 DVD set (I made that up). Certainly the owner of the Penguin set would never need to go out again. It would, on a personal level, be the End of History.
I suppose one might just buy them in order to feel better in some disturbed way but still keep going out. Much as the life of the Duc des Esseintes, the aesthete ‘hero’ of J-K Huysmans’ ground-breaking 1884 proto-virtual-reality novel of the Decadence ‘Against Nature’, has its cosy charms (the Duke purchases a chateau and lavishly decorates each of its rooms in a different style: one simulates a boat, another contains a collection of perfumes with which he composes an aromatic symphony etc) (it’s a Penguin Classic) (he never goes out again), I fear the sickly perfume of atrophy would soon drive one out to the nearest All Bar One. (‘”Mine’s a pint, squire!” barked the Duke thirstily.’)
No bugger who buys the Classics Collection will ever read it. We can speculate on how nice it feels to have it though: “Now that I have the Classics Collection not only is my library complete but I am. I have sealed the fissures through which dripped the contempt of the cultured. Like the taxi-driver I am fatly equipped with the Knowledge even if I do not, as yet, appear to know how to get to King’s Cross. I can, however, at any time that I choose, immerse myself in the canon and fire my firm self through the firmament of cultivation. It is as if I had a warm puppy in each trouser pocket, where the puppy is the good feeling and the trousers are the garments of the mind. And now, if you will excuse me, I am going to kill myself. For I am finished here.”