Thursday, November 18, 2010

Gimme Fiction

"We need to make books cool again. If you go home with somebody and they don't have books, don't fuck them. " - John Waters

Ready for one of the most obvious statements of the century? Here it is: I love books. LOVE books. And not the candy, flowers, and i's-dotted-with-hearts kind of love. I'm talking the obsessive, unreasonable, warrants-a-restraining-order kind. I have hundreds and hundreds of books in my apartment. Books stacked from floor-to-ceiling. Bookcases with shelves buckling under the weight. Books piled on the kitchen table, on the counters, on my desk, on my nightstand. Books shoved under the bed, in closets, in drawers. Thank goodness I still have enough wits about me to know I need to go to work so I can afford to buy food and pay the rent. Otherwise, I would never leave the house - I would be in here day and night with all my books (my precioussssses!), wearing the same pajamas for weeks and ignoring the phone and the landlord's knocks at the door. I'd be reading books by candlelight because the power had been shut off and worrying that I may have eaten the cat, until I find the note from her, reminding me that she's rented an RV for the summer to follow Wilco around on tour.

This isn't a recent obsession of mine. It's not like those stories you hear about people who hit a certain age, and wake up with a driving need to collect Tiny Tim memorabilia or tea cozies made out of panda skins. No, my love of books goes way back, even before Joanie loved Chachi. My mother, also a raging bibliophile, taught me to read well before I entered nursery school, and she would bring my younger brother and I to the library at every available opportunity. Eventually, she got a job there, and from then on, all my free time was spent lounging on a yellow plastic whistle seat beside her desk, reading Hardy Boys mysteries and Choose Your Own Adventures. I had an unlimited number of books at my disposal, and the idea that I could amass a collection of my own had not yet occurred to me.

Years later, my mother left her position at the library for a job at the local bookstore. I would go there after school each day, and in return for unpacking boxes and straightening the shelves, the owner would let me choose a book to take home. Holy cats - I was allowed to pick out books to read and actually KEEP THEM! It was around this same time that I finally got a room of my own. Books quickly started piling up on the floor, so my parents bought me a bookcase. I spent night after night arranging my books in different ways - by author, by title, by publisher, by color. I bought book plates, and proudly marked each one as my own. I soon became so enamored with my library, I decided I didn't want anything else in my room *but* my books. I gave away my desk, my dresser and my bed, and began sleeping in my closet, so my books could have a space all to themselves. (My parents made no objections over this, probably finding a bit of bibliomania less worrying than boy-craziness or partying.)

When I graduated and moved out, I had a few hundred books of my own. This number quickly quadrupled. Left to my own devices, my mania raged. With no one to keep me in check, I began spending money for bills on books instead. (I once existed on peanut butter crackers and cans of vanilla frosting for two weeks, because I spent all my alloted grocery money buying $250 worth of Penguin classics.) I would read a book that I really enjoyed, and then go right out and purchase everything else the author had ever written. I would buy every book I could find on a subject that interested me. (Holy cats, there are a LOT of books about Lizzie Borden.) Though I was reading a book every day or two, my ability to keep up with the unread stacks spiraled out of control. Complaints about lack of living space were lodged, by boys and housecats alike. By the time I was 30, I owned 3,500 books. And then I found out I had to move again. (Insert 'Charlie Brown has just had the football pulled away again' noise here.)

Enter my savior, Tom Holbrook. I stopped in RiverRun Bookstore one day to ask if he knew of any place I could sell books. Instead, he mentioned that he was opening a used bookstore soon, and would be happy to take them. I spent the next few days culling my collection. I thought it would be difficult to choose, but I adopted a tough love stance when selecting. When SecondRun opened, it started out with 900 of my books on the shelves. I also donated another 35 boxes of paperbacks to Goodwill. This made moving so much easier. Of course, what I didn’t know at the time, is that Tom is actually the devil, because right after I made tons of space on my bookcases, he offered me a position working at the stores. This was like hiring Imelda Marcos to work at Steve Madden - I started putting my staff discount to use immediately, negating all my hard work. Clever man, that Tom.

Fast-forward four years - I find myself moving books just so I can set a plate down and shoving books aside so I have a spot to sleep in bed. Stacks regularly crash to the floor in the night, waking me in a panic, certain that Perry Smith is in the house. It takes longer and longer for me to find where the fur shark is hiding. (I'm told she has lost her hearing in her old age, but I think she just chooses to ignore me.) So, I've decided it's time to whittle away at the stacks again. In pulling books to bring to SecondRun, I realize I possess copies of books I still haven't read that I've owned longer than Justin Bieber has been alive. I love having tons of books - keeping them around gives me a cozy pancakes-for-dinner feeling. It would be great if I could read every book I owned, but realistically, even if I read one every day, it would still take me over three years to get through them. And, on top of that, I still buy one or two new books every day. So, I have thanked 400 of them for their years of service, packed them in boxes, and sent them on their way to SecondRun. There's an entire case devoted to the new batch of books I brought in - I hope you'll stop by and check it out. These are wonderful books in need of a more attentive parent than myself. Now, if you'll excuse me, it's time for some delicious peanut butter crackers.


  1. I am right with you on the ode to "Choose Your Own Adventures." I remember sitting with my fingers stuck in several different pages in case I made the wrong move.

    This evening I went in to Barnes & Noble for coffee and walked out with Terrance Hayes's Lighthead and C.D. Wright's new book. I try to cull books and make deals with myself on when I will allow myself another purchase (usually involves finishing what I am reading), but I get tractor beamed into bookstores. I get jazzed that my daughters can't wait to go to the school book fair.

    At the same time, there is something freeing about turning boxes loose to Goodwill, etc. Many thanks for sharing.

  2. I love this:
    "I gave away my desk, my dresser and my bed, and began sleeping in my closet, so my books could have a space all to themselves."

    Wow. Just, Wow. And you used to have 3500 books? Makes my 1000 (give or take) seem reasonable! ;-)

    How old is Justin Bieber - 16, or has he had a birthday or two? Yeah, I have some of those books hanging around too. I still want to read them, someday, but damn, there are only so many hours in the day!

    Thanks for this great post, and enjoy your peanut butter crackers!