Friday, June 17, 2011

Cheers to the book unread

More Books

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 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.


Greg said...

This post REALLY resonated with me. I thought I was only person in the world that did this! ;>) I used to do this same thing, holding on to books, well, almost forever. I grew up sorta thinking that that's what you did (along with never writing in a book...) Think I had the same mother as the child in your story...

I laughed out loud when you talk about Tolle's works - because I had the same exact reaction!

It was a major shift for me to 'release' my old stuff, which includes a lot of books. I kept them for various reasons - sentimentalism, nostalgia, might-need-it-just-in-case, thinking I might re-read it again... My wife, who really works hard at not having any clutter in her life, pointed out to me the personal cost of keeping all that stuff: moving it, boxing, stacking, looking for something in all those boxes of books... It was difficult to release the first boxes of books, but I soon realized I didn't miss them at all. In fact, from an 'energy' POV, ridding myself of those old books freed up a lot of space for new books and new ideas to flow in.

We have a yearly garage sale, and I go through my books and release ones that no longer speak to me. Often, we'll have a basket of free books, which turns out to be a pretty good marketing strategy - we have annual garage sale visitors who come early to see what free books we're giving away. And after the garage sale, it always feels good to leave whatever books might be left over at the local library.

One other book behavior that perplexed me for years until I whispered it to a trusted friends, is that I almost never read one book from start to finish. At any given time, I've got maybe 5 or 6 going at any time. Some books for entertainment, some career related, some to fill my head with good things. Like the child who already had one book, I came up thinking that you 'should' read one book at a time, straight through, not skipping anything. When I confided this deep dark secret, only to find out my friend did the same thing, I realized that indeed its quite common to find people reading several things at any given time.

Now I enjoy my current reading 'stack', and oh yes, I make margin notes all the time. Bad boy!

Jennifer said...

Oh Steph. You speak to my heart. You've seen my case of books (and the piles which cannot fit into the case!) They call to me to be read, but it needs to happen at just the right time...and where am I sitting right now? In a BOOKSTORE of course!

The energy of books is beautiful and nourishing. I could wrap myself in it! And good for you for being able to let go of those which no longer speak to you....I'm still working on acquiring that skill myself.

Much love ~

hap said...

Oh lord, confession IS good for the soul! I too have stacks..and stacks upon stacks of books...mostly hardback. Back in College I even was part owner of a used book store. I could not convince my partner (the majority shareholder) in the wisdom of getting hardback books in the shop, and branching out from mostly fiction reading.

For years I collected juvenile fiction from the 20's and 30's and even into the '40's..I loved the adventures of Tom Swift and his flying boat and Tarzan and Dozens of others.

I still have stacks and stacks, even though I've "purged" a few times. over 600 cookbooks alone. I got my wife a kindle (yep on your recommendation Steph!) and my daughter one as well...but me...I gotta feel the paper!
I have dozens and dozens of reference books, books on photography (because I'm a photographer) Field guides (again because I'm a photographer) and Art books, because I'm learning watercolors. I could no more give up my 1886 copy of Shakespeare's complete works (with steel engravings) than I could my daughter. I can't help it, I love books and reading!
That being said, I only read ONE Stephen King book...Manitou and it scared me enough that I never even wanted to open another of his books!

There are books I can let go of, and those that are my "children" I'm sure it's the same with you!

Stephanie "Biffybeans" Smith said...

Manitou? I'm not sure that's a King book... :o)

Joan said...

You're right, Stephanie, The Manitou was by Graham Masterson. King did a review of it at one of his websites...he's read even more horror than I have!
I grew up with a lot of the same faves in fiction, and have the same response to books as you and as many friends, books! For a child who only usually considered animals as her other best companions, books were huge. Still are. I studied spiritually-based energy healing methods at a school back in 1998 or 99 through 2000 and I bought many of the books on the list and never read them. I am not Reiki-attuned and after moving twice in the past three years, I am more than ready to take some of those and things like The Celestine Prophecy, which I did read, to a used bookstore and use whatever funds I gain from the transaction to add to my Reiki and animal Reiki book collection. We change and our book choices change...once someone at the school noted that she thought perhaps she was looking for knowledge she felt she already had, inside, if she would just access it, in all those books, that they gave her some kind of security in that way...made me think a lot about it! I also notice that I don't read or buy much fiction anymore - unless it's Stephen King and am not interested in it enough to spend time reading it. Something about priorities as I get older, I think. Not a big deal, just interesting, another change over time. Books are still hard to let go of and favorites that I still own are rarely, if ever, loaned out. They were joy and imaginary journeys to a little girl and I will always treasure that part of my childhood, that and growing up with parents who always had stacks of what they would read today or next on the bathroom sinks, headbooards and kept a living room full of books...they influenced me, too. I can remember clearly walking around with a children's story like The Little Prince in my hands at our house, "reading aloud" from it, and my older brother's friend asking what I was doing - I was reciting made-up words out loud. I could not yet read them, but I had been read to and understood that I made them up. I wanted to read that much that I pretended I was doing it - it was fun and anticipatory for me, I could not wait until those little black ants on the page were unlocked for me to interpret on my own.
Tolle's voice puts me to sleep on his recordings, too...only BTW. Great concepts, and to me, boringly presented...great for insomnia, though.

Beth T Irwin said...

I WAS that child as my non-reading mother actually said that to me! I clung to books for years as we moved around the world and my books were my only security. Now I'm learning to periodically clear away the lesser loved and release them to the world.

If I had a larger house with room for shelves, I suspect the herd would continue to grow!

hap said...

LOL see how traumatized I was by the book? Not sure now if it's the right book or right author! I do know it was the scariest book I ever read and it made me happy to NOT read "boogley" stories! I still love my books though!

Teri said...

That sounds like me too. Learned how to read at four and had to convince a classmate in first grade that yes, I did read that fast. My book collection is pretty small, due to living in travel trailers for part of my life. Most of what I have is non-fiction. I try hard not to keep stuff around that isn't still useful. Still, there are a few books that I just can't bring myself to get rid of.

Pelican1 said...

I've always had stacks of books purchased and never read. Now, I have the same situation with my Kindle -- downloaded books waiting to be read!

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