One of the essays that is most revered by bibliophiles is found in Walter Benjamin’s Illuminations (1931): “Unpacking My Library: A Talk about Book Collecting.” Benjamin (1892-1940) was a respected German cultural critic and philosopher, best known for his critical study of Baudelaire, Goethe, Kafka, and Proust. As Benjamin carefully unpacks his library, he reflects on the ineffable joys of book collecting.
“I am not exaggerating when I say that to a true [book] collector, the acquisition of an old book is its rebirth. This is the childlike element which in a collector mingles with the element of old age.”
“Experts will bear me out when I say that [not reading all the books in a collection] is the oldest thing in the world. Suffice it to quote the answer which Anatole France gave a philistine who admired his library and then finished with the standard question, ‘And you have read all these books, Monsieur France?’ ‘Not one-tenth of them. I don’t suppose you use your Sevres china every day?'”
“[One] of the finest memories of a collector is the moment when he rescued a book to which he might never have given a thought, much less a wishful look, because he found it lonely and abandoned on the market place and bought it to give its freedom… To a book collector, you see, the true freedom of all books is somewhere on his shelves.”
“[A] real collector, a collector as he ought to be — ownership is the most intimate relationship that one can have to objects. Not that they come alive in him; it is he who lives in them. So I have erected one of his dwellings, with books as the building stones, before you, and now he is going to disappear inside, as is only fitting.”