Walter Benjamin wrote somewhere that a true bibliophile has no desire actually to read his precious books . Well, I wouldn’t know about that, for I am by way of being a bibliophobe. I prefer reissues to first editions, paperbacks to hardcovers, and bound galleys to paperbacks- though I draw the line at unbound galleys. I find the books that I have accumulated an oppressive presence and a great retardant to any sort of sustained intellectual labour, and I rejoice at the opportunity of tossing them out (I dare not give them away because of the imbecile marginalia I have usually scribbled in them). Qua physical objects, books are the curse of the thinking classes – and having recently lugged several dozen boxes packed with ponderous old tomes up four steep flights of steps into a new apartment, I can say this with more feeling than most.
For those who hate to have books piling up around the house, even libraries can be dangerous. It is too easy to end up like Nabokov’s poor Professor Pnin, who always had on his shelves a few hundred books borrowed from the Waindell College library (an early warning signal is