You have a book collection right? Of course you do. Every man does. Perhaps it’s a stack next to your bed, the oak-panelled library that you retire to in the afternoon, or the middle-aged shelving solution in between. Nothing a man owns says more about him than his bookshelf. Look at the books in a man’s home and, as well as a glimpse of his life now, they’ll tell you about where he’s been and where he hopes to go.
Our bookshelves, not our eyes, are the real windows to our soul. The dog-eared copy of The Autobiography of Malcolm X that you read whilst listening to hip hop in your teens. The Virginia Woolf collection that you read to impress that date — but fell in love with. The paperback copy of War and Peace that you tackle each winter, the one with the spine creases that finish like tracks in the snow somewhere around Moscow. Not all books you read will spark joy — perhaps you donated those books to charity long ago.
Even a light reader however will amass a meaningful collection over time. I have a theory that a man, if he has aspirations to be a man at all, should own 1ft of books for each year of his life. It’s a high bar in some circumstances perhaps, but then no one succeeded in life by aiming too low. Books are an investment in yourself. You won’t have read every book on the shelf, that’s okay. You won’t remember the contents of many that you have read as time passes either. If a book is good, it deserves to be read more than once, and read at different stages of life too. That’s why when you move home, that gradual step towards the house with the library, your books move with you.
A good book teaches us something, a great book teaches us that there are other books we still need to read. A bookshelf is a reminder that you don’t know everything. Smarter men before us have forgotten more than we’ll ever learn and that’s fine. Learning humility is all part of that education too. Books aren’t a substitute for life, they can’t satisfy hunger, but they are important seasoning for the meal when it comes, and may help you get a seat at the table.
Books help us make sense of life, they can’t teach you everything but they’re often the best place to start and the best place to retire to.
Originally posted as part of the Gents Cafe Newsletter, a bite-sized read about men’s lifestyle to enjoy over a coffee or a nice cocktail. Join now!