Recently I read Found, a book of poetry by Souvankham Thammavongsa. Not to disparage this book in the slightest, but the content of this book specifically isn’t important. What matters right now is what it is to me, what is has been. I read her first collection of poems, Small Arguments, in 2008 for Critical Thinking about Poetry, a first year course I took during my time at the University of Toronto at Scarborough (UTSC). I can’t precisely remember when, but I bought Found in the UTSC bookstore shortly afterwards because it was there. I recognized the similar binding, that I’d read the poet already, and picked it up. I wasn’t even particularly partial to Thammavongsa’s work. I was just starting to collect books and I jumped on it.
From there the book sat for eight years. Though not moving that far geographically, it has resided with me in three cities during this time. It’s never been left completely untouched, has been relocated and half-remembered numerous times, I’d just never bothered to crack it open. Looking at my shelf the other day, a modest but sizeable personal library at this point, I thought about it and considered that it would take me all of 15 minutes to read this book, if that — which it did. This wasn’t something I never realized. I just never got to it.
Eight long years having passed it’s hard to say I’m exactly the person I was back then, just at the dawn of adulthood when I decided I had to pick the book up. Now, I’ve had a brief glimpse into a unique perspective on a slice of the world, as all writing and art allows us in one way or another. It seems inconsequential, but I may never have had this specific experience. Unlike other works I’m more actively driven to get through, even despite issues with motivation, I could have very easily never have read Found. It only took me 15 minutes.
This isn’t that big a deal, it’s only a small poetry book, and I don’t mean to ascribe deeper meaning to a mundane experience like this. For its part it was a lovely read and I’m happy I read it, but it’s got me thinking about what I’ll actually get to when all is said and done.
I have plenty of books I acquired just as long ago, much greater in length, that I still haven’t gotten to. New books are constantly coming out or coming to my attention. I just couldn’t help looking at all the spines before me and wonder which of them, if any, will remain unread. I take my ownership of my books a little for granted, because it’s entirely possible I may die without ever having read some of them. All of them, even my favourites, will move on somewhere else, to used bookstores, libraries, schools, my descendants, — who knows? That’s assuming the books themselves survive too.
It’s a little somber to think some of them will move on, after having sat in my living spaces so long, without ever having been read. It’s a fact of life, we can’t possibly get to everything and some of these books I frankly won’t care if I don’t read, but all the same I can’t help but feel a twinge of premature regret. Inside the pages of one of these overlooked books may be a spark, like in Found, that might not ignite a fire of passion in me, but could provide just enough warmth, insight, and satisfaction — something — that will otherwise be left as nothing but potential.