We all have our vices. For some it’s clothing, or electronics, or cars….mine just happens to be books. I have had other vices in my life, but books are my ‘worst’ vice, and likely (hopefully) always will be. Books are my crack…my crystal meth…my addiction….the deckle-edged, hardcover monkey on my back. I love to read. I have ever since I was a small boy.
I own, without exaggeration, anywhere between 1000 and 1500 books. Those are just the ones in my home…still boxed up in my basement, for the most part, awaiting the completion of my ‘library’ in our new home. Originally we were going to put in a new hardwood floor, but upon closer examination, under the Cookie Monster blue carpeting, long past its true glory days, and a layer of linoleum which can best be described as Penal Institution Hallway Chic in a shade of beige I have only otherwise encountered in my mother’s foundation makeup from the 1970’s, there is already a hardwood floor waiting to be ‘reclaimed’ as is the popular term nowadays for making new use of an old item. The linoleum needs to be ripped up, a tedious, time consuming, and rather back-breaking task I have been, little by little, working on as time and tenacity allow, and then the adhesive layer underneath sanded off, and then, hopefully, we will have a gloriously new old floor just waiting for us to bring it into the modern era.
Then comes the task of lining the walls with shelving. Something we are going back and forth on in terms of sticking with traditional bookcases or trying something ‘unorthodox’ that we’ve found online. My true ‘aesthetic ‘would be the bookcases (the ones we already have were purchased at Ikea a few years back), but I am not so inflexible as to try to embrace the idea of something different…something unconventional….and embrace it.
Each time I put in a load of laundry down in the basement, I pass by the stack of boxes, three layers deep and four or five layers high, of books waiting for me to liberate them from their cardboard incarceration. We have had other tasks to accomplish, more immediate in need, in the house that have eaten up significant time, along with the typical day to day challenges of the two boys and their myriad needs. My layoff in September has necessitated a change in insurance coverage for us all, and therefore new doctors, new procedures, new referrals and approvals, and a lot of time spent setting all of it up. I’ve left the library as a ‘work in progress’ for now, along with the entire second floor of the house, where the unattractive, textured wallpaper taunts me with its decades old patina of a mixture of jaundice yellow and dune grass green. The boys have recently discovered a ‘secret hideaway’ as they refer to it, being two wood panel doors leading to an ‘under the eaves’ storage space with an even more ugly linoleum floor in a slightly deeper shade of beige with flecks of red, yellow, and blue in it….like fallen confetti…They have dubbed it their police station, and this should content them for a few months until some renovations up there can be accomplished.
I look at my books in the basement and offer up silent apologies to them now and again for keeping them imprisoned for so long a period of time. Never, in all the moves I have made since striking out on my own in my late teens, have I had my precious collection of hardcovers stored away for so long. Typically, after moving, I have uncrated them and lined them up once again, separating them by genre (classics, historical novels, thrillers, etc.) and by author, placing them carefully and lovingly on the wooden shelves to display them anew. I own very few books that carry any significant monetary value. But to me, they are a treasure trove of stories, ideas, and endless hours of enjoyment. They are old friends, offering me daily greetings, as if to say, ‘Remember me? I’m the one you read during that snowbound weekend one year where you were so absorbed in me that you didn’t realize seven inches of powder had fallen beyond your windows while you were lost in the world inside my pages, telling a tale of a former government operative in search of the lost library of Alexandria,’ or ‘ Hi! I’m so glad I was able to offer you some slight comfort when your Aunt passed away in 2005, and you found it so hard to concentrate on anything, really, but at the same time felt ‘lost’ without a book in progress. My books are the constant companions in my life, though friendships have come and gone…the surrounding walls and scenery have changed….my ‘old friends’ in the bookcases have simply invited new members to their ranks, year upon year.
One of the babysitters we have used over the past several years, on her first assignment watching our hooligans, remarked to her grandmother (who is a friend) that the only other place she’d ever seen so many books was in a library. She couldn’t have paid me a higher compliment if she’d stated that the furnishings looked right out of House Beautiful.
Our landlord at our former home sent me a text one day, full of apology, asking if her mother could borrow one of my books. It was a copy of Nicholas and Alexandra. She had lost hers some time ago before finishing it, and had noticed it in my collection one day when she was present for a home repair taking place while we were at work. The landlord expressed her deep regrets at such an intrusion into our ‘space’, but I assured her that having had someone peruse my books and find something they’d like to borrow, and then ask, was a most welcome form of flattery. I loaned out the book with my profound compliments, and assured her and her mother I was most happy to do so.
I am a long-time voyeur of other people’s collections as well. While some people will come into your home and open your medicine cabinet to try to uncover some deep, dark, scandalous secret you might be hiding – or rummage through your drawers looking for decadent lingerie or ‘adult’ toys…I am an out and out literary peeping Tom, as I will stand in front of someone’s bookcases and stare, unabashedly, at their own collection – counting how many books we have read in common, or at least own, and smile when I find a former ‘gem’ on someone else’s shelves that I recall reading with true enjoyment.
When the bookcases began to get ‘full’ once again at the old house, I had, sadly, to begin to shuffle them around a bit, box up a few, and make room for new reads. When I visit a used book store (my version of a trip to a crack dealer) I purchase two, three books at a time. I never know what will catch my eye when I lay down one read and pick up another. I usually hold ‘book auditions’ when I need a new one, and select three or four titles from my stores, read the first chapter, and stop when I find one that invites me to keep on reading beyond that initial draw. I have been using this method for years now to find my ‘next read’….and it has yet to fail me.
I love the smell, feel, and look of books. I always have. Many times in used book stores I have been known to pull a volume from a shelf, place it under my nose, and draw in its scent deeply…inhaling not only the craftsmanship of the binding, or the glue holding it together….but the essence of the book itself…the story contained inside…the dense, musky aroma of years of gathered dust while the book waits in repose for someone just like me to spot it on a shelf, pluck it from its perch, and think to themselves, ‘This looks like a keeper.’ Finding a new book haunt, with a cornucopia of good reads inside, is to me a holiday like no other. I lay down my few dollars required to acquire these newfound gems for my own collection…take them home, and over time break them open, begin reading…and I drift…I dream…I drown in their content. I lose minutes, hours and days in their glory. I never regret even one iota of time spent reading a good book. I cannot imagine many more enjoyable ways to spend my time.
With the invention of eReaders, the bound book is slowly becoming something of a dinosaur in many circles. People find their ‘Nooks’ or ‘Kindles’ far more portable and easily packed for a long, medium, or short journey. I, thus far, am a holdout, and still revel in the finding of something with a binding that I cannot wait to dive into and immerse myself in some new realm of imagination. I don’t know that, unless there is absolutely no other option for me to read, I will ever give my tactile enjoyment of books up for molded plastic and a high resolution screen. I am too ‘old school’ with my books for that…I am too lost in my addiction to give it up.
Books are, to me, a gift from some divine being. A wondrous treasure to be cherished for all of my life. I can sit for hours and simply look at them, sitting on the shelves, and become enchanted by them all over again, like staring at a photo album of old friends. Books are my muse…my elixir…and my salvation. They long have been, and likely always will be.