Elias Canetti On Owning More Books Than You Can Read

Elias Canetti

I am pretty sure we’ve all heard various arguments for owning more books than you can read, and Umberto Eco’s and Nassim N. Taleb’s idea of an antilibrary.

But here is another great argument, a metaphysical one, coming from Elias Canetti. Bellow is his short note about his perspective on buying books, made in 1973 (from the book Über den Tod).

I don’t regret for this orgy with books. I feel like in the time of expansion from which Crowds and Power was born. Even then everything happened through my adventure with books. When I didn’t have the money, in Vienna, I gave everything I didn’t have on books. In London, in worst times in my life I still managed from time to time to buy some book. I never studied systematically, like other people, but only when I was suddenly overwhelmed with excitement. That always started by a sudden look at something I would have to own. The very act of reaching out for the book, the joy of throwing out the money, carrying out books home or to the closest shop, starting at, fondling, browsing through, postponing for the upcoming years, revealing again when something is ripe – all of that is a part of the creative process whose hidden details I don’t know. But I am like that in everything else as well. So I will continue buying books until the very last moment, especially if I am quite certain that I will never read them.

And that is, I believe, a part of defiance against death. I don’t want to know which from those books will remain unread. That will remain uncertain until the very last moment. I am free to choose, in every moment I can freely choose any of the books that surround me, and by that I hold my life in my own hands.

Elias Canetti – Über den Tod.

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