The Corner

Increasing Booklessness

Joseph Epstein once wrote a wonderful essay for the Weekly Standard about deciding to sell off most of his personal library. The title (a reverse nod to Anthony Powell) was “Books Won’t Furnish a Room.” No link, alas, but I saved the text, and this is the last paragraph:

“Fine things books, but perhaps the moment has come to stop taking them so seriously. Who was it said that people who are always reading never discover anything? I’m not sure if that is true, but I do know that reading and thinking are not necessarily the same thing. Sometimes reading supplies the most cunning of all means of avoiding thought. It would be good once in awhile to try thinking without the stimulus of books, to become not an out-of-the-box-never, please, that-but at least an out-of-the-book thinker. Books may furnish a room, but there surely are other things quite as suitable for furnishing a mind. Time, I think, for me to attempt to find out what these might be.”

This piece made a deep impression on me, and at a time when circumstances forced me to make some hard decisions about what to keep and what to shed, I got rid of some two-thirds of my library, preferring to free up the walls for art. I’ve never regretted the loss of a single book–and I love books with all my heart.

Terry TeachoutMr. Teachout is the drama critic of the Wall Street Journal and the critic-at-large of Commentary. Satchmo at the Waldorf, his 2011 play about Louis Armstrong, has been produced off Broadway and throughout America.


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