“I am simply a ‘book drunkard’. Books have the same irresistible temptation for me that liquor has for its devotee. I cannot withstand them.”
Never has a truer word been said about a bibliophile and their relationship with books than these by Canadian author L.M. Montgomery (for those of you trying to place her, Montgomery’s rise to literary stardom began with the publication of ‘Anne of Green Gables’ in 1908).
How many of us have told ourselves we’ll stop after one more page, before somehow managing to reach the end of the chapter? And how many have promised the same for one chapter but have gone on to finish the entire book, sleep be damned? I know I for one fit into both camps, and it is that ‘irresistible temptation’ that is to blame.
Part of the problem though, I find, is that so surrounded are we by literature, temptation is not just limited to the rapid consumption of books, but the hoarding of them as well.
Let me share an example. Every morning on my way in to wherever I need to be that day, I pass a book swap club. If you’re not in the know, what this consists of is two small bookcases above which is a sign encouraging travelers to pick up a book in exchange for leaving something similar. I often stop by to have a look at what’s on offer, and I almost always leave with another book in my bag. A lot of the time, both the titles and their authors are obscure names which I have never before encountered, and yet the blurbs are intriguing enough they make the cut anyway. I don’t risk leaving them and coming back another day – I made that mistake once before. The next morning, I make sure to leave something of my own – a children’s book, some forgotten remnant of my past; a phrasebook in a foreign language; that one book I’ve had for years but never liked. I’m selfish because I leave things that won’t be missed. But as that’s what we all do, the guilt isn’t too bad.
And so the cycle continues, until one day I find I have more unread books lining my shelves than the ones I’ve leafed through several times before. Does that mean I stop visiting the book swap bookcases? No. Do I close my eyes as I pass the ‘club’? Definitely not. Each time some ‘irresistible temptation’ calls me, convincing me if I walk on by, I could miss the one day someone’s left a work of such literary art I’d pay to have it on my shelf. Thus the hoarding begins.
To keep track of the new intake, I recently made a reading list. Books are listed by the shelf they’re on (yes, my shelves have been categorised, mostly by genre), and the order they’ve made it onto the shelf. This has meant that at any given time, I can see how much I have read, and how much I have yet to read, designed to encourage me to pause book collecting until the numbers balance out. What I hadn’t counted on though, was the element of virtual hoarding the list would encourage.
Confused? Well my dear reader, think of the billboards and newspapers, the television and the internet, in short all the advertisements to which we are constantly exposed. Of those, in my case at least, I come across a significant proportion of promotional material for new releases and bestsellers. And if the promotional material is good enough, the book will find its way onto my list, nestling snugly onto the appropriate shelf as if it’s already been bought, underneath other titles I have yet to read. Below is a case in point:
The result, for the moment, is a list consisting of 101 books, some of which I own, some of which I don’t, and too few of which I’ve ticked off. It brings to mind another bibliophile quote, this one attributed to American writer Maud Casey:
“I was born with a reading list I will never finish.”
I’m beginning to know the feeling – I suppose I should head off and make a start.