On Skimming

By Biborka Beres '21

Artwork by Emma Ogden '21

Artwork by Emma Ogden '21

I was going through the library when it hit me––one of those way-too-existential moments of realisation––about how disconnected we are from the crazy amounts of books (and their histories and stories) we are surrounded by.

Let’s talk about books. Not what’s in them––we talk enough about that in classes, papers and discussions––but what they are.

Before coming here, I never ordered a book online, nor did I buy one to be used only for one class and then shoved it aside. Skimming through the strict rows of cheaply reproduced paperbacks in the bookstore, with the exact same text and content in them, is such an industrial way of finding a book, or letting a book find you.

Finding a book is a journey. First, you stumble upon the location: make a completely unplanned turn into a narrow alley in Venice, from which a bright, spacious courtyard opens with a worn-out sign atop the gate that reads “Libraria Alta Acqua.” Rush through the main square of Strasbourg under slimy, grey and drizzling clouds; clench onto that thin windcoat and when you reach for the umbrella, notice the miserable little bookstall on the wet and cold cobblestones. Stumble upon the old book collection of the deceased husband of your grandma’s neighbour, which is laid out neatly on a handmade decorative spread at the village’s annual sale.

Then, get lost among the many book spines and give the control to your nose rather than your vision. Try to untangle the chaos of book smells and pop open one prospect after a quick decision. Leaf through the pages, with eyes running side to side, and mind gobbling up the words. Or, completely reject the book and hastily put it down, just to start the search again, with head curving above the titles like a snake on the dry ground.

Owning a book is dedication. From both the owner and from the book. You cling to the books like leech to flesh, haunt them until you’re consumed with appetite and thus will steal them back to re-read them again and again. You shall not let such a marvel perish after a last-minute skim-reading, late at night, for a two-hour class.

Well, you shall not read them in such an abusive way. Skim-reading is Tinder for books... Basically.

Reading is ownership. How one treats a book is how one relates to their possessions. Here and now, where everything (and everyone) is easily ownable and discardable, we are awfully disconnected from objects around us. So what does it mean to call an item, a book, really yours? It’s not the money you spent on buying it, but the little piece of yourself in it, encaptured so unconsciously and only noticeable in its absence. And in its absence, you can come back to it and rediscover it again and again, just to leave it conserved among those pages, passing them from hand to hand, reader to reader, carrying all these stories in addition to the one written within.

Long story short, get attached to books. It’s worth it.