Friday, June 17, 2011
They say the road to hell is paved with good intentions but I believe it may be paved with unread books.
Years ago when I worked at the mall, my friend Nancy from the bookstore told me about a conversation she once overheard in the store. A child said to her mother, "I want this book!" To which the mother replied, "But you already have a book." We chuckled in amusement but also felt sorry for that poor child to have been denied a book. As an avid reader myself I'd grown up with my worst fear being that of Burgess Meredith in that old Twilight Zone episode, "Time Enough at Last." (All the books in the world to read but his glasses break.)
I was an early reader. Able to read the newspaper at the age of 4 and granted one of the esteemed orange library cards (access to the adult library) while my schoolmates were still engrossed in their Ramona and Beezus books. Though we didn't have much money, Mom would still slip me a few dollars to order books from the Scholastic Book Club in elementary school.
When I would hit the age of 16 and work full time at the mall, I'd be sitting in that kiosk for up to 11 hours a day. The mall security guard would take pity on me and bring me brown grocery bags filled with paperbacks to keep me occupied. I'd read everything in those bags regardless of the content or genre at a rate of about 1 paperback per day. (Luckily they were mostly horror, mystery and true crime. My fav's at the time.)
I'd move around a few times (and things get lost or tossed when you move as they always do) until settling in with my husband at the age of 19. Moving into the apartment together, I can still remember his aunt Joyce bringing over her housewarming present of a large bookcase- knowing I was an avid reader. I'd fill that case and then some, once again moving my prized collection of books to the house I'd inhabit for the next 20 years.
We now have a finished attic room where the books reside. Or at least they used to reside. One day I discovered that my collection was comprised of two kinds of books. My favorite fiction, and various non-fiction books purchased when I held an interest in a certain topic and wanted to learn more. Any time I'd be up there, I wondered why I still had all those hard back Stephen King books and that's where it started. I realized that though I had in fact re-read many of my favorites, I understood that I was holding on to these books for the wrong reasons- the same reasons hold on to anything- for the attached memories. So into a box they went. Once you get the 1st one in, the rest come easy.
But as for the non fiction? This is where I feel like I'm headed down the firey brick road. I'd buy piles of books- sometimes 4-5 at a time from Amazon.com. From Barnes & Noble. From the book sale at the library... They would be about subjects to which I had an interest but I'd buy them and then they would sit unread around the house in little piles just mocking me. I have probably started and abandoned more non-fiction books than I have read and I'm embarrassed by the fact that I always seem to take in more than I can handle.
Which brings me back to that woman's comment. "But you already have a book."
I did a grand book purge last year and it was really difficult for me to let go of titles that I had good intentions of reading such as, Eckhart Tolle's "The Power of Now." I bought it because everyone was reading and talking about it. I started it and found his writing style boring and repetitive. I understood the concept of letting go & being present within the first 10 pages and didn't need to be beaten over the head with it. Same with "A New Earth." I can't tell you how long that one sat waiting for me to read it. But Oprah raved about it so I had to get a copy. My copies of both books have since moved onto the great beyond along with a host of others.
I think maybe more than anything, (even art supplies) books are my feel-good purchase- like that big bowl filled with macaroni and cheese that you know you will later regret. All my life through good times and bad, books have remained my constant. When I was sad or lonely I could always just reach out and there was one of my favorites waiting to comfort me like a dear old friend. They so easily let me tune out the world around me when it was less than a forgiving place.
These days it's pretty easy for me to let go of old fiction, but I still struggle and judge myself for either having purchased too many non-fiction books I haven't yet read, or for having started and abandoned them.
Do you have the same issues with books or are you able to keep a better handle on what you buy and what you read?
*Note - of the books above, I think I kept two and I'm not sure I read any of them cover to cover.