Oh Look I Got More Books Again

the-book-thief-1Book Fair is upon us.

After shelving all the books and making sure the repairs cabinet was still in hand, I clocked out and did a bit of shopping with my kiddos. There were too many to just carry around, so we started stacking the books we wanted up on a side table until- much tallying and quarter counting later- we were satisfied we had everything together. As I was heaping them up, a little girl stared with wide eyes up at the pile higher than her head and asked in awe, “Are you buying them all?” I assured her I was. Then I staggered over to the circulation desk and whomped down the latest additions to the home library. The librarian (aka my boss) looked at the stack, looked at me, and then laughed in my face.

She knows I have a problem. I know I have a problem. My husband who has to keep building me bookshelves knows I have a problem. Anyone who has ever set foot in my house knows I have a problem. We also all know that it’s a problem I intend to keep.

I might joke about it, but I wouldn’t say I’m a true hoarder in any seriousness, because my compulsive book collecting doesn’t significantly impair my life (although it does impair my ability to get through certain doorways- sorry hubby, I’ll get to those ones soon, I swear). Sad to say, I procure a bit more books than I can actually read each year, although I definitely and whole-heartedly intend to read each and every one of them before I die.

The trouble is the acquisition. There I am, standing in a book shop, and then I look along a shelf and –wham!– there it is. A beautiful cover, a catchy title, a fascinating premise… before I know it, I’m hooked. I hardly know what I’m doing before it’s off the shelf and in my arms. I am euphoric buying books, just giddy about taking them home and stacking them on my desk and admiring them before putting them up on the shelves. I don’t care about clothes. I don’t care about movies. I don’t care about rocks or coins or vintage buttons or Pokémon cards or antique keys. I care about books.

Once they’re acquired, there’s no getting rid of them. That love at first sight never goes away. And despite owning thousands of books, I can tell you exactly how I procured every one of them- which shop it came from, or who gave it to me for what occasion. (Seriously. I have been quizzed on this by my friends.)

Honestly, I worry about it a little bit sometimes. My husband brought up the possibility of moving once and I kept it together until I realized I would have to get rid of some of my books, and then I went completely to pieces. I cannot get rid of books. I own a book that I hate that I cannot bear to toss out. I will never inflict it on another person and I cannot bring myself to destroy it or throw it away. It lives hidden in a closet where I never have to look at it and has been there for eleven years.

What’s going to happen when I die? How long is it going to take my kids to go through my scads of books, all carefully cataloged and neatly arranged (except for those stacks lurking around doorposts and the boxes shoved under benches and beds because I ran out of room)?

It is a problem. I know that. But I keep getting more books. Books delight me in a way that no other possession does. I love the way they feel in my hands and I love the paper-and-ink smell when I open them and I love the way they line up all straight and lovely on the bookcases, like soldiers in a thousand motley uniforms. Putting them in order calms my cluttered mind and reading them soothes all my stupid first world problems. Sometimes I just run my fingers along their spines, paper and skin, and it feels good.

Maybe some day it will tip over from being a problem to being a disorder. I’m not quite there yet, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it happened. But for now, I just try to stay out of bookshops as much as possible. If I don’t see them, I won’t bring more home.

Probably.

Farewell

A couple weeks ago, my favorite bookshop announced that they were downsizing and moving to a new location much farther from my house. And while I was more than happy to lead the raiding party that came to take advantage of their clearance sale (twice *coughs*), it wasn’t with pure bliss that I placed this latest batch of acquisitions in yet another of the neat little stacks clustered around my writing desk.

Gulliver’s is going away. I know they’ll still be around in a smaller incarnation across town, but I also know that I won’t go there as often, and the selection won’t be as good. They will no longer have that one corner that is my favorite to wedge myself into while deciding if a microhistory is coming home with me or not. There won’t be that one spot where I always crouch down, scanning B for Butcher or Brooks. They will no longer have my absolute favorite- that one claustrophobic corner where I always have to whisper ‘excuse me’ and scoot myself sideways past some other reader, and then turn and see all those books for my babies spread like a bank of shy dreams, spines out and half hidden.

It won’t be the same.

I’ve known for months that I wanted to do a sentimental blog post about favorite book shops, and the odd feeling of a store stealing a heart (as well as a paycheck), but that was before Gulliver’s announced it was for sale. That was before they downsized and moved. That was before I realized how melancholy that would leave me. You must forgive an old lady her rambling.

As I reached out to other avid readers on the web, I’ve found that my old-lady-ramblings aren’t all that uncommon. I asked my buddies about their favorite books shops and, of the ten responses I got, the shops of only three of them were still around, and one of those was sheepishly admitted to be a chain store. The others had all gone out of business.

I know that the fate of indie bookstores isn’t all doom and gloom. In fact, if Google is telling me the truth, the market share of independent book stores is actually on the rise. But my fair city (and my fair state in general) is in an economic slump and, according to the Gulliver’s employee I grilled about it, people just aren’t spending as much money in book shops as they used to, at least not here in Fairbanks. And so I clear out Gulliver’s bookshelves and fill up my own, and wonder with mixed feelings if maybe now I will get through the TBR list faster than I accumulate new titles.

It’s not all bad, I know. Gulliver’s will still be around, although different. And I still have a few other shops around town that I darken the doorways of every now and then. I’ll never run out of books to read. There are places that have far less than this.

But still. I’ll miss that one corner.