Thursday, October 02, 2008

Shelf Life

Illustration by Edward Gorey.

“When I get a little money, I buy books; and if any is left, I buy food and clothes.” ~ Desiderius Erasmus (1465-1536)

"A house without books is like a room without windows." ~ Horace Mann

I will admit it; I'm an addict. My drug of choice is books. I love to read and the only thing I like more than the actual act of reading, is the adventure of going out to acquire the next book. I get a thrilling rush whenever I walk through the doors of the bookstore, and smell the new pressed bindings, hear the rustle of turned pages, see the rows and rows of colorful bookshelves, showcasing all the characters I've yet to meet, promises of adventures to be had, triumphs and tragedies, heroes and villains, and new worlds to discover.

My addiction started at an early age, when my mom would take my brother and I to the library once a week. (Yeah, she was an enabler.) Oh, how I looked forward to that weekly excursion! I would take a bookshelf in the "kids" section and work my way through it, reading everything on it, then move on to the next bookshelf. Then I went to school and there were a whole new set of books to discover at that library. Our librarian (or my "dealer", as I affectionately think of her now) was terrific. She would give us time to turn in our books, pick out new ones, then in the last five or ten minutes of the class, we would all plop down on huge beanbags and she would read Shel Silverstein poems to us. What a great lady.

Like any drug, the first hit is free. Once you are hooked, then you have to start to pay. The school book fair is where the expense of my addiction first really took its hold. Rows of books that I could not only read but own; keep them tucked away on the shelf in my room, to be pulled down and read again at my pleasure. One of my all-time favorite books, a book that I have re-read often, even as an adult, was purchased at one such book fair: the fantasy novel "The Darkangel" by Meredith Ann Pierce.

Then there were those times when I got hooked on one specific type of drug, er... I mean... book. I would only read that type of book and nothing else. First it was the book series. I ran through all of the Nancy Drews, the Chronicles of Narnia and the Little House on the Prairie series. Then it was nothing but sci-fi/fantasy, then it was nothing but thrillers/horror (I was stuck in that genre for quite a while), then it was nothing but the classics. The variations on the drug are never ending.

When I couldn't get my fix from the library or book fair, there was always my dad's cedar chest. In my home, my mother deemed that bookcases were strictly for nicknacks and family photos. So my father's book collection was relegated to a cedar chest in his closet. If I needed something to read, he would open the cedar chest and pull out one of his latest finds. The phrase "I think you'll like this one," spoken by my dad, was the best and most trustworthy book review ever; I could always depend on it. He had a way of reading a story out loud too, that brought it to life... character voices and sound effects and all. My favorite one for him to read out loud was The Haunted House book from my Disney storybook collection.

Like most addictions, if you do not suffer from it yourself, it's hard for you to relate to those that do. Such was the case with my mother. It would aggravate her to no end that my father and I could just sit in the living room - my dad in his recliner, me on the sofa - motionless except for the turning of pages, for hours on end. "Why don't you get up and go play outside?" she would say. She didn't understand that not only was I already outside... I was a million miles away.

Now my collection has taken up seven bookcases and counting. I try to weed them out and take some to re-sell to the used bookstore (Thrifty Joe's is our local favorite.), but it's hard parting with them. They are like old friends... just waiting patiently to relieve the adventure with you. I guess I'm just sentimental about the journey, even if I never plan on taking it again, I want to keep the book as a reminder of the good time I had.

You would think after all these years I would have kicked the habit, but this addiction is here to stay. I've joined a support group (i.e. book club). My mother and brother have reluctantly resigned themselves to the fact this isn't going away, and even support my habit now. Although for every birthday that rolls around, when I am asked what I want for my birthday and I reply books, my mom continues to lament, "What do you need ANOTHER book for?" They've learned to just get me gift cards to feed my need, rather than trying to hunt down the latest release or obscure title that I'm jonzing for.

My addiction continues... having just had a birthday and received said gift cards, I just picked up the following: The Shack by William P. Young, The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, and Blaze by Richard Bachman. My husband gave me the gift of The Thirteen Clocks by James Thurber, while my dear friend Raven found a rare collection called "The Darkangel Trilogy." Who knew that first book that got me hooked was actually the first in a series of three! What a find! So be watching for lots of book reviews soon! Apologies in advance to my "Lit & Latte" book club friends. I also picked up a copy of Moloka'i by Alan Brennert for our next read, but some of these other books are calling out to me... so many books... so little time...

I invite you to leave me a comment and let me know, are you an addict too? What was the first book you remember getting "hooked" on as a kid? What's your favorite book of all time?


Laura said...

Glad we're back! ;)

Laura said...

Oh, I should answer your questions about my books...

My dad's mom was a school teacher and loved books. When she died, I got her entire collection of Charlie Brown books. They are so nostalgic for me to read, I really should get them out for the kids!

My Grandmother read to me constantly and I always received a book as a gift for every occasion. I don't remember the specific first book she gave me, but I'm pretty sure I still have every book from her and my Granddad. It would break my heart to get rid of them as she always inscribed the date of the gift in each book.

I love fiction and I would have to say my most memorable book reading experience was when I got my first Narnia book at the impressionable age of 12. I devoured it in a couple of days and acquired the next book immediately to "feed the need". An excellent series that is still my favorite re-read every year.

Elizabeth C. said...

Hi, I'm Elizabeth and I'm a fellow book addict! ; ) One of my fondest memories as a young child is hiding under the desk in the bedroom I shared with my little sister or in my favorite tree in the back yard reading. The first thing I remember really enjoying are the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys books. After that, I remember "The Secret Garden" being one of my favorites. My Dad was always giving me grief for reading books over and over again, but to me it was like revisiting a favorite vacation spot. Obviously, I haven't gotten over that because nowadays my family gives me grief over how many times I've reread the Harry Potter books. I just love being transported to another place and time.
Like you, many books hold sentimental value for me and are tough to part with. As a result, and since Stephen is now a book addict too (though coming to it later in life than I did), we have shelves upon shelves of books! The trick is to incorporate them into the decor of the house somehow. (I'm still working on that one!) ; )
Thanks for posting. It is a joy to read your writing!

D.L. White said...

Hi Laura - thanks for sharing the great book/reading memories! I love giving books as gifts, and always write an inscription and date in them too! :)

Elizabeth - I LOVE "Secret Garden"! I haven't thought about that book in forever! I'm a re-reader too - although I don't have time to do it as much as I used to. "Books as decor" - that's our problem also. :P

chandy said...

Yay! I'm so glad you're blogging again! You write about very interesting things...

I can't really remember a time in my life when I wasn't reading something. I guess the first series I ever got hooked on was The Babysitters Club (such excellent literature, huh? :)

But at some point in junior high I discovered how much fun it was to read a "grown-up" book, and then actually discuss it someone. That's when my mom and I started sharing books. The first one I remember reading and discussing with her was The Prince of Tides (awesome, wonderful, amazing book...if you haven't read it, please much better than the cheesy movie.) Over the years, we've introduced each other to lots of great books. She convinced me to read Thornbirds and Lonesome Dove (still working on that one) and I convinced her to read Harry Potter and the Mark of the Lion series (she's now read them all at least 74 times.)

I can't wait for your book reviews! I'll be especially interested to hear your take on the Shack, what with all of the controversy.

D.L. White said...

What a blessing to have parents or grandparents that love to read, and share that passion with you!

My husband already read thru "The Shack" and wants me to read it so we can discuss it. So I've started it - it's pretty engaging... and also pretty transparent at what it's trying to do... but we'll see how it goes. It should be a quick read - it's a short book.

Abby C said...

I can totally relate to your addiction -- I am a book addict myself -- love the bookstore. Just the smell of coffee, new pages of books and bookshelves gets me going. I used the fill library card after library card (long before it became electronic) reading Nancy Drew, Trixie Belden, Sweet Valley High, Christopher Pike, when I was growing up. Now I have so many books on my book shelves that I haven't read yet -- and I wanna buy more, but I need to finish these first before I buy anymore!

So now, I am a total library junkie – I am there 4 days in a week! This is my cost-efficient way of still building my addiction. I would usually scour the library shelves and borrow books from authors from my days in college and high school --- I would read contemporary authors like James Patterson or more classic ones like James Joyce. I found this reading journal called “Read, Remember, Recommend” from -- it’s just this great little resource with Awards Lists (including the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, Los Angels Times Award for Fiction and National Book Award for Fiction), Notable lists (Oprah’s book club is one of them) and Author Pages. It’s really helped organize my reading. (I’ve finished half of the Awards list) Check it out – reading becomes so much more enjoyable with it.

Just a recommendation from a fellow book lover -- hope it helps!

D.L. White said...

I was just telling my husband a couple days ago, that I wish I could find my huge list that one of my lit. professors gave us, of all the "classics" that everyone should read in their lifetime. I'd really like to work through it. I'll definitely have to check out that site.

Jessie said...

Please, please, please pick "The Shack" for our November book, Davina! I cannot wait to read it and have heard that it's a terrific book for discussion.

Of course, the selection for next month's read is entirely up to you, but I just wanted to put my two cents in.

Alright, back to the post.

Addicted, yes. So much so that my husband (dear one that he is) is happy that I've recently picked up sewing as a hobby because it's so much more "productive" than reading.

"Um, excuse me." said I. "Every time I read I learn something. Reading for me is productive." Needless to say it's been a bit tense in the Wilhelmsen house the last couple of days.

I started reading serially thanks to my mom. One summer day she brought home "Little Women" and said that I would love that book. Oh, and I did. And from there I have pretty much been hooked on classics.

But I'll ready anything. Everything from the Nancy Drew series (love those) to the Babysitters Club was absorbed by me in the early years. Lately I'll read just about anything.

I went on to read a bit of the smut books, but thankfully, I was able to turn away from them. Real lit is so much more satisfying.

By the way, I'm so glad you're back posting. I missed it.

D.L. White said...

Oh... "Little Women" (nostalgic sigh) I haven't thought about that book in ages. I love that book. I have a beautifully illustrated copy.

I already had an idea for my book pick, but you might be right... "The Shack" might promote a good discussion... I'll take it under consideration...hee hee