Sunday, May 8, 2016

Addicted to Books

My name is Amy and I am addicted to books. My relationship with books goes on beyond enjoying a good read. I like to read books, and  I also like to write them, collect them, discuss them, recommend them, give them, discover them, loan them, borrow them, touch them, stroke them, smell them, house them, and hoard them. If they were edible I would eat them. Some of my best friends are books.

One of my favorite events is the monthly used book sale at the public library. I attend religiously and arrive uber-punctually before anyone else turns up. Books cost about a dollar (less for small-size paperbacks) at the sale. Some months I buy only a couple books and other months I fill a shopping bag. It all depends on my mood and what they have available. Because I constantly donate books back to the library, I have to be careful not to buy back my own books, which I have done on more than one occasion. I also try (don’t always succeed) not to buy duplicate copies of books that I love with the idea that I will find someone to give them to, like stray puppies. I whisper to strangers, “That’s a great book, you should buy it.” I am the eccentric annoying old lady at the book sale. (At least I don’t constantly hum under my breath like one guy who always turns up at the book sale and drives me crazy because I can’t concentrate with him humming.)  I have trouble walking away from a book that I love and leaving it homeless. It requires tremendous restraint for me to pass up a $1 hardback copy of one of my most beloved books in mint condition. I am tempted to buy books I have read and loved because, I admit it, I am a book hoarder.

Every few years I cull out books that I have not opened in years and will likely never read again. I have been strict with myself on several occasions, and whittled my collection down to a dull roar. Three years ago, I finally gave away three shelves of classic poetry books purchased while in graduate school. I donated the books to the local college library. This act required me to admit that I would not be reading copious amounts of Gerard Manley Hopkins, John Donne, Wordsworth, or Coleridge in the near future. I had collected the entire canon of Western poetry, beginning with Beowulf (in the original Old English, which I could not make sense of in the 1970s and still cannot make sense of today – who swims around in rivers in full armor?). I even had a copy of Spenser’s The Faerie Queene, which I never read in grad school. I kept several shelves of poetry books, mainly to impress the neighbors, since I don’t read poetry much these days. Divesting myself of my grad school poetry was a watershed moment. After that I could divest myself of many other books that I had not read and that I originally bought in the hope that they would enter my brain and psyche via osmosis if I had them on my shelf. My education looked impressive according to my shelving. I could take photos of my bookshelves and attach them to my resume.

I cannot walk past a book store without going inside. Bookstores are swamis playing my tune. When I go to other people’s houses, I study their bookshelves like I do the departure and arrival boards at the airport. If I see a box or rack of free books, I must stop and see what’s there. My friends tease me that when they see me at the monthly library book sales, I am hyper-focused. It’s true. I read every spine as if the survival of the human race depended on my ability to acknowledge every book on the table. Don’t get between me and the book sale tables, you could lose a tooth. Sometimes I stop in at the library just to walk between the shelves and absorb the energy from all those carefully placed words. Some days, I am biding my time for the entire day until I can crawl into bed in the evening and read. If I don’t have a stack of books on my nightstand I feel naked. No e-reader for this gal. When I need to feel more centered, I stand in front of my bookshelves and read the titles. Old friends. If reading was an Olympic sport I would have a gold.

One of my favorite questions is “What are you reading?” I also like to ask people to tell me what good books they have read lately, what their book group is reading, and what they have on their nightstand. I wear people out talking about books. I live vicariously not through the lives of others but through descriptions of the books they are reading. If I had not met my husband and raised a family, I would have spent my life as a recluse at home in bed reading. I would have had a nightgown collection worthy of consideration for induction into the Smithsonian. Excuse me now, must go fondle spines.

I enjoy images like this one of bookshelves organized by color, but, seriously, 
how could you ever find anything using this system?

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