Ex Libris


I read almost excessively from screens these days. There are a couple of great reasons for that.

The first is that it’s just plain easier. I always have my phone on me, I can read it without leaving the light on and disturbing my wife, (although she might tell a slightly different story) and it’s a lot simpler and less time consuming to get new books. I like going to bookstores, but it means finding the time to drive somewhere and spend some time perusing the shelves, whereas an eBook is literally seconds away.

The second is that in the course of my nomadic existence in six different cities over the past ten years I’ve never been able to hang onto a sizable amount of books. Books are a real pain to move, especially if you’re traveling light or flying. The largest purge I did was back in 2009 right before I left Ireland — my friend Cormac drove me to the dump and I offloaded a couple of hundred books. It was sad to see them go. A library represents a lot more than just the words on the pages. It consists of a thousand little recollections and experiences, like a vast cloud of threads intertwined and leading to your brain.

It felt bad but it had to be done. Offloading possessions has always been a double-edged pleasure of mine. I’m more sentimental than many would suspect about some things, but divesting myself of things has always led to an increased sense of living in the present and a feeling of lightness of being. I’ve rarely regretted passing something on to another person, or consigning it to charity or trash collectors.

When I moved to the USA a couple of years ago this is what I looked like as I stepped off the plane:1

That picture contains 100% of my earthly belongings at that moment (apart from an old chest filled with papers and knickknacks in my grandparents attic in Scotland). Here’s what my library looks like right now:

With the exception of Earth Afire, these are all that remains of my library — stalwart elder statesmen of past times, they’ve survived multiple cullings.

The Proud Highway, Fear and Loathing in America and The Great Shark Hunt are all collections of writing by Hunter Thompson. Any time I feel my prose is getting too stale or my outlook too drab, I dip into one of these. I think I’ve hung onto them this long because they connect me with the good parts of my younger self — the enthusiastic, confident mooncalf who hadn’t really encountered limited possibility in anything more concrete than the abstract.

Fowler & Fowler’s The King’s English is another in the same vein. A present from my parents, its partner Fowler’s Modern English Usage has been AWOL for a couple of years. You could read this book for a minute or an hour.

Aside from those, the only other things to survive are a number of Moleskine notebooks and an Ordnance Survey map of the West Highland Way from my solo-hiking days in Scotland.

Will I ever build a library again? I don’t know. I’d like to, but at this point I feel like it would be more of an exercise in interior decorating than anything else.


  1. More properly that’s what I looked like when I’d sweated my way off the plane and through Customs and Immigration.