Should a walking, talking tree from The Wizard of Oz or, perhaps, The Lord of the Rings, enter my house, I expect that within a few moments it would collapse into a pile of hysterical tears.
”Oh, the arbor-anity!” it would cry.
My house, you see, is filled with paper — paper that has been milled, pressed, cut, tattooed and glued between slabs of yet more paper, then aligned in an order incomprehensible to a deciduous creature. But what would seem a massacre to my wooden guest is one of my greatest treasures: my book collection.
Okay, ”collection” may be a bit of a high falutin’ word to describe my books. ”Collection” implies some sort of method to the madness: a single-minded pursuit of an obscure author, an unexplainable passion for first editions, a mania for a particular modern literary movement. That’s all very high-brow, very cultivated, very literary.
My bookshelves, conversely, are filled with titles I just felt like buying at the time. Also filled are the cedar chest in my bedroom, the boxes in my closets and the floor of my office. If I didn’t have the credit card bills to prove that I bought them, I’d swear they were reproducing on their own.
I’ve been addicted to books since I was in elementary school, when my parents would leave me to my own devices at the bookstore in Paducah Mall while they went about their own shopping business. Such callous disregard these days would land them on Dateline to be castigated for their shameful parenting techniques, but luckily back then we didn’t have Stone Phillips to monitor parental responsibilities, so I was free to browse for hours at a time.
And that’s where the monster began. At the time, my parents limited me to one book purchase per trip — perhaps two if I were lucky. These days, however, I control my own purse strings, which means that any trip to the bookstore quickly becomes an exercise in instant gratification.
A biography of John Adams? Ooh, that sound interesting.
Everyone’s talking about In Defense of Food. I like food. I should get that.
Cheap horror novel? You betcha.
New translation of a Russian classic? I am so there.
Really, it’s kind of sad. My to-be-read pile is actually a multitude of stacks spread throughout my home. At any moment, should I be struck by an irresistible urge to read words from the printed page, I can blindly stick out a hand and grab something. Even if it turns out I’ve grabbed some half-finished Dean Koontz novel I bought 12 years ago, well, it’s good enough for a trip to the bathroom.
I am a little judgmental when it comes to books. I’m that kind of person, the one who enters your home and immediately starts looking for bookshelves. I don’t completely judge someone based on the content of their bookshelves — if someone tried to judge me that way, they would peg me as a crypto-fascist, a radical vegan revolutionary or an expert on Russian literature, depending on which shelf they looked at. I don’t care what’s on the bookshelves, as long as something is on the bookshelves.
I just lied a little a bit there. If someone has just one shelf stocked only with tomes by Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh, I’m going to make a judgment. But let’s just call that the exception that proves the rule.
The sad thing is that sometime in the near future, I know this will become futile as people continue to digitize all the information in their lives. I’m not raising some Luddistic call to save the literally printed word — I am, after all, writing this on an iMac where I can listen to my entire music collection while keeping an eye on my RSS feeds and e-mail in the background.
But when everyone else has become slaves to their Kindles, I’ll mourn the days when the fastest way to a man’s (or woman’s) mind was a perusal of his or her shelves. Of course, I’ll be the crazy hold-out in a house full of paper, rambling on to any and all who will listen about the joys of taking a nap on the couch with a huge, densely written book splayed open across your chest.
It’s just not the same with a PowerBook.
When Metro Weekly co-publisher Sean Bugg isn’t kickin’ it old style with his printed prides and joys, he blogs about all the books he hasn’t read yet at www.buggblog.com.