Book Junkie

February 23, 2010

I confess. I’m a book junkie. In this electronic age, I’m utterly and completely addicted to books: reading them, buying them, browsing through them in a bookstore or library. When I inhale the smell of a bookstore, especially a used bookstore, my heart flutters and adrenaline surges through me.

Libraries also give me a rush. All those books waiting to be opened—and they’re free. I know my 14-digit library card number by heart, and I adore searching the online catalog and putting books on hold. With one click of a mouse, I can feed my habit with books from libraries all over my county.

And buying books online? While it lacks the sensuality of the bookstore, online book buying gives me an additional fix: endless titles and both familiar and obscure-but-fascinating authors to explore. I can spend hours wandering through Amazon or Abe Books or Not only is there the thrill of finding a bargain book (May Sarton’s Journal of a Solitude for a penny!), but the additional pleasure of anticipating the arrival of that book in the mail.

My addiction is such that I read at every opportunity, and in every type of surrounding. Along with more traditional places, such as doctors’ waiting rooms or the bathtub, I read while in the gas station car wash (and once while pumping gas), while in line at the drive through at the pharmacy or bank, while blow drying my hair, while nursing my baby in the middle of the night, and between halves at that baby’s football games (he’s 15 now). I once tried to read in a Jacuzzi spa, but found the jets splashed too much water on the book.

Oh, yes, I'd read here...

I usually read at least three books at one time—fiction, non-fiction, self-help, humor, spirituality…I’ve got a book for every mood. I read books about books (one of my favorites was aptly titled Leave Me Alone I’m Reading) and keep a log of the books I read each year. Once, I made a New Year’s resolution to read less. When I pack for a vacation, I choose what books to take as carefully as I choose my clothing.

I confess that I feed my husband’s addiction as well. Aside from the pleasure I know reading gives him, if he doesn’t have something good to read, then I won’t be able to…he’ll need conversation or meals or (ahem) “marital attention” when I want to read. (Does that make me a pusher?)

I like to blame my mother for my dilemma. I inherited my love of reading from her, but she may have just the slightest addiction problem herself. (She once got a traffic ticket for reading while sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic. She had opened a book on the seat beside her, snatching sentences while the traffic remained at a standstill. The motorcycle cop who ticketed her did not approve.)

Books started out as my innocent companions—my solace in a rather lonely childhood, their characters my friends and comforters. Coming home to an empty house after school wasn’t quite so bad when I could roam the fields and woods of Prince Edward Island with Anne of Green Gables or feel the wind on my face as Alec raced with the Black Stallion. Books taught me about everything from puberty to how to bake brownies. My desire to travel was first awakened by reading James Herriot’s Yorkshire.

Books have enriched my life more than I can say—but somehow, I crossed the line from relaxing hobby to addiction. For years, I kidded myself, denying I had a problem—until we recently remodeled our bedroom closet and my addiction became something I could no longer ignore. On a free-standing bookcase in our closet, I had stored my stash of purchased-but-not-yet-read books. When I moved them to make room for the new closet system, I found I had 52 unread books. That’s a whole year’s worth if I manage to read one a week!

A small section of the to-read stack...

So now I’m in rehab. I can’t buy any more books and I must curtail my library habit until I read some of the ones I actually own. I’ve sifted through the books in the closet and made the hard decision to get rid of a few. As they’ve lingered in the stack, I’ve realized that I’m just not going to read some of them. (Henry James’ The Golden Bowl comes to mind. I’ve begun that book three times and haven’t been able to make it out of the first chapter.)

It’s been several months since I confronted my problem. I haven’t been completely successful in reining in my book habit, but the unread books in my closet now number only 28. Hey, it’s a start.

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  1. Thought-provoking post, Kathy. I definitely came close to addictive level behavior with reading books before in my life. (And I had no idea reading while caught in gridlock was a violation; you've given me valuable information!) One memorable weekend when I was home alone, though, with both my roommates gone on trips, I suddenly didn't want to read anymore. It was strange. I quit cold turkey for a few months and never resumed with quite that old intensity -- but I wrote a lot more. :) I wondered later if I was compensating for not allowing myself the time and leisure to write when I could, or alternatively as a way of not facing my debilitating block.

    As for being a pusher, I'd only say you were feeding his addiction if he considered it debilitating or interfering with his life somehow. And I suspect he feels like you, Kathy, that it adds richness and depth to his life, esp. the interior life. :)

    My husband sadly does not share my passion for reading. He told me he loved to read when we met, and then later told me he'd been too busy to read of late -- but I've never yet seen him pick up and read a book all the way through, even though he has quite a collection of unread tomes (way more than 52, btw), many of which *I* have now read, for a funny twist.

  2. Oh, my god, I have got to stop writing such long comments. Sorry!

  3. I'm not sure I would call this an addiction as that has a negative or harmful connotation. What about habit or dedication? I suppose it could be negative if you deem the effects of it as bad, but is it really?

    I think it's a behavior to be aware of so that it doesn't become negative. I also think it's a wonderful habit - you're expanding your mind, and hubby's!!

  4. Meredith--you crack me up with your concern about your long comments! I don't mind them AT ALL, but you could always email me privately if you want to! I get the feeling we "click". Since you're an "Artist's Way" person, I'll share this with you: the week where you're not supposed to read nearly killed me! But I did it! So I know it's possible. Truth be known, I don't read as much as I'd like to be able to, because my life is quite full of other, non-reading tasks/adventures/responsibilities/hobbies.

  5. Laure: I don't "really" consider books/reading an addiction per se, but truly, I would almost rather read than do anything else, and that can get in the way of achieving other things I want to do in my free time (like art, for instance). It takes less effort for me to pick up a book than to get out my sketchbook and play. Sometimes that's fine, but if it gets in the way of other worthwhile indulgences...

  6. Hi Kathy! thank you so much for stopping by my blog and leaving a comment on my SITS day. I really appreciate it. Between my husband & I, we have so many unread books that they've spilled off the shelves, tabletops, end tables onto big piles on the floor. I imagine a magical moment when I can have the luxury of time to read even a portion of them...maybe when I'm retired!

  7. You're welcome! My husband and I are the same--we have books all over the place, far more than we can read in the foreseeable future. Maybe someday we'll catch up!

  8. Fascinating post and comments Kathy. I too love to read - and quilt, and paint, and embroider, and and and . . . It's hard to choose what to do sometimes. Unlike you, I only read one book at a time - I can't keep them straight otherwise. But I always have MANY other projects going at once.

    Are you familiar with a website called Paperback Swap? I get a lot of my books from there. It's a great way to find homes for books you're through with too. Let me know if you want more information about it (csgebhart at gmail dot com).

  9. So many hobbies, so little time... I have heard about Paperback Swap but have never tried it. I have a local used book store and a library bookstore that I usually take my books to.

  10. You and I have a lot in common! - Barbara

  11. Welcome, Barbara. It's always nice to meet another "book person."

  12. Read Pilgrim at Tinker Creek.

  13. I have this book, and read it years ago. Maybe time for a reread?