More on the quote by Umberto Eco that Jason Kottke posted yesterday and the pithy quote I was trying to remember in response. Su emailed me a few hours after the post went up and managed to track it down. The quote comes from Eco’s essay “How to Justify a Private Library” (available here on Google Books in full), part of his collection How to Travel with a Salmon and Other Essays:
In the past I adopted a tone of contemptuous sarcasm. “I haven’t read any of them; otherwise why would I keep them here?” But this is a dangerous answer and invites the obvious follow-up: “And where do you put them after you’ve read them?” The best answer is the one always used by Robert Leydi: “And more, dear sir, many more,” which freezes the adversary and plunges him into a state of awed admiration. But I find it merciless and angst-generating. “No, these are the ones I have to read by the end of the month. I keep the others in my office,” a reply that on the one hand suggests a sublime ergonomic strategy, and on the other leads the visitor to hasten the moment of his departure.
The gist of the quote, which is what I was trying to remember, is that Eco knew of three possible answers to the question about the scale of his library: 1) He’s read none of them. 2) He’s read all of them and more. 3) What’s unread is only what’s visible; what’s read is left to the imagination.