I’m not sure there’s ever been a rigorous definition of gluttony, but a series of incidents have made me wonder if we are suffering from its effects, in the form of book-fat.

I can hear wincing noises in the seats at the back, there… I certainly winced when I thought about it. I winced a lot more as I tipped boxes full of old books into a skip, devoid of anywhere locally to re-home them, despite great efforts.

“Nobody wants books, anymore, mate!”

Manager of a charity shop in Kendal.

We’ve had a great big tidy up, recently, Mrs Tanham and I. She’s as much a book lover as I am, perhaps, more so. A childhood in which her father died when she was six years old, and in which she and her elder sister became the main support structure for a mother who struggled to cope with the emotional impact of widowhood, let alone borderline financial stability, set her on the road for books for life. Books were friends: an escape and a source of knowledge; knowledge that could pass cold hours wrapped in a coat in a house without enough coal…and could, later, get you to university with a real love of history – consumed from books with a deep love of the subject matter.

She loves books…

In my own case, books were correct knowledge; a knowledge beyond the possible truth of what my parents – in good faith – gave me as their helpful opinions. It’s a growing thing, and a rite of passage, to know that, if you know how to look, there’s a book out there that can expand your knowledge and widen your horizon.

It was a library book that first alerted me to an emerging field called ‘computing’, and changed my choice of college and course… and the rest of my life.

As in everything it touches, the internet is at once a blessing to, and a killer of, books. Good, because you can now search with previously unheard-of accuracy, for that rare source of specialised knowledge for which you’ve been hunting all year to finish your project/novel/research paper etc…

But the internet has also seen the triumph of what Herman Hesse called the ‘Feuilleton’ in his brilliant final novel: The Glass Bead Game‘, published as the Nazis came to power in Germany.

The Feuilleton was the opposite of the deep knowledge pursued by the Magister Ludi and his followers; knowledge in which that depth threw up deep and potentially spiritual connections between ideas, connections that were previously unthought of – and wise.

The Feuilleton is the necessary result of too much information and too little contemplation of its meaning… resulting in the exaltation of the mindless and twisted ‘truth’ seen in today’s gutter press; an instrument that deprives many of understanding by wrapping it in glitz, glamour and sex. The Feuilleton makes us fat, because it deprives us of real nourishment, whilst increasing our hunger for more…

We’ve all seen the price of empowered ignorance. On both sides of the Atlantic, our newly fractured societies are its children…

Pure scholarship may not be the answer, either. Would any of us turn back the clock and not have the internet? Pandora’s box was well and truly opened when the humble ‘browser’ came along and masked all that technical spaghetti in relative simplicity. The rest is history…and is here.

And then the book, itself, changed. Probably entering our lives when we flew on holiday – with a limited weight allowance on the plane, and took that new-fangled Kindle with us – “It’s just for holiday, it won’t replace my lovely bookshelf…”

Has it? it’s a good question. In my case, I still have a room full of books, but equally, I’ve had to get rid of another room full that I finally realised were never going to be read. Now, my Kindle is mirroring that second room of books. Am I ever really going to read all the books on my TBR (To Be Read) list… to be honest, do I even really have a TBR, aside from the Kindle, itself…

Wince, indeed!

I love books…I love their feel. I love the physical craftsmanship that goes into their making. I love the feel of quality paper turning in my fingers, even their smell. Virtual paper may change – to be honest it has to, because the Tech leaders are waking up to the fact that our favourite looks shabby in its virtual book device.

I predict we will each have a ‘meta book’ of our favourite size and, binding, in which there is what appears to be blank paper. The paper will feel like the most exquisite paper we’ve ever held, but ‘washable’. When we select a book from the meta-library in its spine, linked to the all-books depository on the web, the download, in glorious full colour, will feel and look like we’ve just been granted a visit to our national archives. I will turn my pages, hearing a delicious sound and feel. When I get to page (say) ten, the last, it will refer me back to page one, and so onwards through the book. AI will tune my searches so that I can ask: Can we go back to the page where the idea of parliament first appeared?

There are many ways to treat this topic, and dark humour has to be one of them.

Diana Wallace Peach of the excellent Myths of the Mirror website had a new writing challenge for the new year called ‘The teetering TBR pile’. The link is below.

I hadn’t written any poetry for a while and decided to have a go at a little black humour on this subject. If you received Sunday’s post – which was Diana’s cut-off date, you may have already read it. If not, then here it is… and thank you!

Five Spines of Doom:

Five spines of doom, the living pile declares

To struggling mind awakening in the gloom

Of winter morning in the dreaming room

Who shouts? He whispers to the wall

Five spines of doom, where will has failed

To clear the conscience of the might

of these five books which through the night

Have taunted sleep of he who put them there!

Beside the bed, next to his head…

That, given this priority

They would at last be read and free

And not in their minority


Like struggling morning’s light

He grasps, past January’s tea gone cold

The truth his doubting mind foretold

‘Five spines of doom’ … it rings, a nightmare’s fright

Five spines – now books – declare his guilt

Short days, he blames…or longer nights

The five lie mute, abed.. And sadder, yet, unread.

His rising knees make wall from quilt.

Around the Kindle fingers fumble

Seeking to suppress the mumble

Of words in millions’ silent plea

A digital majority.


©Stephen Tanham 2022

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye, a journey through the forest of personality to the dawn of Being.

http://www.thesilenteye.co.uk and http://www.suningemini.blog

13 Comments on “Are we Book-Fat?

  1. Gradually, over the years, I have developed a dislike for digital books. I have trouble reading anything on my computer screen and much prefer to print articles. My reading habit suffered until I started buying paperback copies. Far more civilised, in my opinion…

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I used to keep books but every time I moved I gave them away and started collecting again, then moved and gave away – you get the idea. Now I mostly use library services both real and virtual books, though there are some faves I reread and keep on hand. Folk I know who have books to get rid of have found homeless organizations take them

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi Steve,

    Brilliant piece, very thought-provoking. It’s struck me there’s another pile, or chest full of titles labelled “to be read again” or TBRA. The Glass Bead Game is on that list for me, fascinating a story as it is, a lot of it went over my head the first time around. I do remember the “Feuilleton age” though – amazing Hesse was writing at a time that’s quite vintage to us now, but which sums up the modern day perfectly, indeed as you say it finds its triumph in the Internet age.

    I’ve noticed the bookshelves in the charity shops are shrinking – just the more popular fiction, and cookbooks seeming to be of interest. The one exception I know of is St Catherine’s Hospice bookshop in Chorley, which seems stocked and run by bookish people, and a pleasure to browse. They even had a copy of Hesse’s short stories in there.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Michael for that detailed response. I like TBRA really, that category defines something very special. And how that second read – in both fiction and non, reveals how rewarding the book was… and is. Thanks for the Chorley tip. Next time we’re visiting our ‘old town’, we’ll have a look. If you’re in Kendal centre, the Oxfam book diagonally opposite the town hall is a mine of good books.


  4. We have been there where we have given away some books..shock horror…my kindle has broken alongside all my TBR pile I am now buying hardbacks again 🙂 I rest my case for a book with real pages to turn 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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