A Life's Library

Alexander Chee waxes poetic on the huge number of books he has carted around during his life:

Collectively, they’re the autobiography of my reading life. Each time I pack and unpack them, I see The Phoenicians, a picture history book my father gave me as a child, and will never sell; the collection of Gordon Merrick paperbacks I shoplifted when I was a closeted teenager, stealing books no one would ever let me buy. The pages still retain the heat of that need, as does my copy of Joy Williams’s Breaking and Entering, bought when I was a star-struck college student at the Bennington Summer Writers’ Workshop 20 years ago. Each time they were all necessary, all differently necessary.

He tries out the e-reader only to one day pick up the book underneath it, and realize:

The world remains beautiful and terrible at the same time, and either way, I know it doesn’t care what I think or feel about it. There are things to do to help others, and there are things that may never change. But if I learned anything from all of this, it’s my first, oldest lesson as a reader: There is always going to be a book that saves you. There is also a new lesson: You do not know how it will get to you.