Books…the ultimate time machine

Carolyn - The Woodlands, Texas
Entered on December 22, 2008

This I believe

Books … the ultimate time machine. Like other dedicated readers, I have often experienced the transporting and time stretching quality of a good read, but I’m talking about another power. While borrowed books are a ticking clock, it is the books we buy that create the illusion that we will have, sooner or later, the time to read them.

As a graduate student holding down a full time job, I was a compulsive frequenter of used books stores and library sales. Realistically, I had no time to read all of the books I carted home in brown grocery bags. But I wanted, in the midst of grading student essays and reading required texts, to make the minutes and hours to sit on the deck and read, at my leisure and of my choosing.

The situation did not improve after graduation. My husband, a notoriously light packer, is fond of telling me that one bag is traveling, two – carrying luggage and three – hauling cargo. Still, no vacation comes that I don’t stack up the books, believing, that if I have all those trashy paperback, best sellers and long anticipated new releases, I will have time. The vacation will be longer, the days less packed with must sees and must visits. Books will warp time, making it fluid, expansive.

Now, I’ve become concerned about the floor around my study bookcase. It is littered with unread books, new and used, that I have been buying for the future, for when I retire. I wasn’t just shocked because I was also intending to move to a smaller house and realized the amount of wall space that would be required to contained my yet to be read and still growing collection. I was also dismayed that this hording of unread books flies in the face of another family shibboleth, “death on the tarmac.”

Growing up, I had a friend whose father worked in the city miles away and only returned home on alternate weekends. As compensation for this absenteeism, he promised his wife that as soon as he retired they would board a plane and spend a year in Europe. You see where this is leading, don’t you? My family vowed never to put off doing what we really want for fear of dropping dead on the proverbial tarmac just short of realizing the goal.

The problem with time machines is they don’t, they can’t, work; the “grandfather paradox” comes into play. While I have no intention of slaying my own grandfather, I do fear running into my crazy uncle, whose living space was constantly shrinking from his growing collections of books…books to be read, sometime. Which leaves the dilemma, if books can’t create time, how do I make time to read them all before I die? One can only hope that Jorge Luis Borges was right and Paradise really is a “kind of library.”