Confessions of an insatiable book buyer

I have a little problem. I can’t stop buying books.

Now, I have always purchased books by the truckload: but it didn’t use to be a problem. Pre-babies, I had plenty of disposable income – and I had enough time to stay on top of my reading, no matter how many books I acquired. I had all evening to read. I had all weekend to read. I’m a fast reader. Piece of cake.

Then I had my first baby.

Ah, have more life-altering words ever been uttered? First of all, I lost my paycheck. Secondly, I lost every scrap of free time known to humankind. In the days weeks months following my son’s birth, I sat on the couch, soggy and shaky, holding my baby and staring at whatever TV programs I could receive with our rabbit-ear antennas. (Answer: soap operas and game shows.) For the first time in my life, reading did not cross my mind. Mainly because I had virtually no mind left for it to cross.

After a freakishly long time, I sort of adjusted to my new life, and was ready to resume reading. I headed to the bookstore, suffering from two delusions: 1. That I could still afford to buy new books, and 2. That I still had enough brainpower to read and comprehend complex literature. My first post-baby pick was Crime and Punishment. Rookie new-mom mistake.

Oh, friends. Do not try to read Dostoevsky a few months after a baby has come forth from your body, when you have been caring for said baby every second of every day since then. I really, really tried to read that book. I must have picked it up a dozen times, struggling through a few pages at a time while my brain drooled and gibbered: “…wha…?…huh…?” Finally, regretfully, I set it aside. (But I will read that book someday. I will.)

I drifted towards easier reading. But I was soon forced to accept that I could no longer walk into those brightly-lit bookstores, full of thick, shiny, wonderful-smelling books, and buy whatever I pleased. Not if I wanted my family to eat and, you know, have a roof over their heads. So I went and acquired something I hadn’t needed in a couple of decades: a library card.

And I tried to use it, I did. One would think that the public library would be a satisfactory solution to my little problem. One would be wrong. For one thing, I just like to own my books. They are precious and personal to me, especially the ones I really love, and I hated returning them to the library when I was through with them, sliding them into that little bin as though they were garbage. Also, the whole process didn’t seem quite sanitary. It seemed that every time I checked a book out, I ran across dried bits of something stuck down near the cracks of some of the pages, and the covers often seemed to be streaked with a film of some sort. No bueno.

THEN I discovered the marvelous used bookstore at the local library in the next town over, and my world changed.

This little bookstore ROCKS. I’m not going to tell you where it is, because then you might descend upon it in hoards and snap up all the good books before I can get there each week, and I’ll get mad, and it’ll just get really ugly.

(Yes, I said “each week.”)

This store sells magazines, good ones, for 25 cents a piece. They sell paperbacks for anywhere from 50 cents to three dollars. They sell hardbacks for $2.00-4.00. They have several attractive little displays of new merchandise, which they change every week. They have adorable little grates that they pull down over the doorways when they’re closed, like a NYC deli. They have tall wooden bookshelves packed with books that are neatly and logically categorized.

In the last six months, I have scored the following at this store:

  • Bestselling novels that I’d always meant to read, but had never gotten around to.
  • Famous short-story collections.
  • Recently released novels that I’d never heard of, that turned out to be fantastic books.
  • Cookbooks whose recipes have become staples in my repertoire.
  • Intriguing memoirs, like one by a former Roman Catholic nun who has become a writer and educator.

When I recently decided to read To Kill a Mockingbird, which I had somehow missed while growing up, my new favorite store had a copy for 50 cents. (A new copy will run you around $14.00. I was proud of my frugal self for days, over that one.)

This bookstore has saved my life.

Well, actually, it may have complicated my life. Because I now have 20 (not a typo) back issues of Architectural Digest piled up on a table in my living room. And 23 (not a typo) newly-purchased books scattered around my house. (Did I mention that I have two toddlers, and very little time to read?) There are stacks of unread books and magazines wedged onto the back of our sofa. They keep getting dislodged and sliding down onto people’s heads and annoying my husband, who wants to know why I can’t just jam them onto my (already packed) bookshelves. Oh, babe.

So, I am torn. On the one hand, the fact that I can once again purchase good books, almost to my heart’s content, makes me want to cry with joy. On the other hand, reading all these books at a faster rate than I’m buying them would require me to defy the laws of physics.

Then again, I hear they’re making advances in cloning. I have always had a moral objection to the process. But the thought of a secondary “me” who does nothing but sit around and read all these books I’m accumulating…well, it’s tempting…

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12 Responses to Confessions of an insatiable book buyer

  1. “insatiable book buyer”…those may be the three most beautiful words in the English language…

  2. Nancy Tinnin says:

    Despite the possibility of things turning ugly, I wish you’d share the name of said bookstore. It’s not fair to keep such treasures all to yourself… of course, you are willing to share your treasures with a precious few and hopefully (please??) I could be one with whom you’d be willing to share? Yes?

    P.S. I LOVE reading your blog.

  3. robin lagrow says:

    okay – i can’t get the picture out of my mind of your face when you come across something the last readers left in a library book. i have the SAME problem. i lysol them and use anti-baterial hand sanitizer. it’s so creepy. i also can see the stacks of books in your house right now. i can imagine you staring at them, sighing, then turning towards the kitchen to go make toast with peanut butter for the boys!!!

  4. Michelle Rhee says:

    Beautifully written. When I start a book I am consumed and cannot accomplish anything else, including sleep. I have to pace myself so that I can actually be a functioning member of my family, with occasional 2 day disappearances as I devour a book. Some say you can read while nursing, but I never could. I need a comfy chair, good lighting, and no distractions. As a mom you know how rare, ok, nonexistent, those moments are. Right now while writing this short paragraph I have two kids crying and one that is asking to sit on my lap =)

    • I could never read while nursing either, Michelle! I can’t even have music on…I want it quiet, so I can concentrate.
      I read really early, before the boys get up, during baby’s nap, or late at night. Which is why my house is not quite as spotless as it could be. But reading is like breathing to me.
      Thanks for reading the blog!!

  5. Laura says:

    I totally understand the need for books. We do go to the library and sometimes you have to choose to ignore the ‘things’ in the binder or on the pages. We tend to borrow books from family. They write down the titles, who lent them and then ask us if we are finished reading. We have books in boxes in the basement that are reread every 2-3 years. I love owning them, but having a place for them is overwhelming. I love to read your articles. It always intrigues me to see what others read, it’s like looking into their brains. Keep on reading!! Laura Mikel

    • Aw, Laura, good to hear from you! Thanks for reading my stuff.
      Yes, having lots of books gets clutter-y. I still hold out hope that someday I’ll have a house big enough for a separate “library”…I can dream, right? 🙂

  6. Simon T says:

    Welcome to the blogosphere!
    I curbed my book buying by only buying 24 this year (supposedly) – I’m on 20 so far. In fact, I bought three at lunchtime today…

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