I have a problem.

And that problem is books. I own almost 2,000, and yes, I know every single one by title, author, genre, location — be it in a storage crate in the basement, on my desk, on my nightstand, in the trunk of my car, in the bathroom, in one of several stacks on the floor, trust me: I know where it’s at. Compounding the book problem is another, more insidious (and more costly) problem, and that would be omnivorousness. I’m not content with reading A Time of Gifts. I must also read Between the Woods and the Water, The Broken Road and Artemis Cooper’s masterful biography Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure. Not only must I read them, but I must physically possess them.

Books are to me what I imagine a loved one is to most people — the look, the touch, the scent of a treasured book is no less sensual than those elements in a boyfriend. I acquired a reputation in college as both the best and worst student from whom to buy a used book. Best, in the sense that I considered highlighting or underlining or in any way defacing (and to me, to whom the text is sacred,
“defacing” is not an exaggeration) any book I required for a course; worst, in the sense that once a book enters my possession, you will have to kill me to get it.

I am not a man of means. The instrument with which I’m creating this post is likely the second-most valuable thing I own (after a 2005 Honda Civic, and if we want to get specific, third after said Civic and my over-priced college degree… separate issue though). Yet my most prized possession is none of the above — it’s the calfskin gilded Ciardi translation with full Doré illustrations of Inferno. After that, my full set of Will & Ariel Durant’s Story of Civilization. Followed by my much-read copies of Crime and Punishment and Walden. Followed by Gravity’s Rainbow… you get the picture. Working for the time that I did at an independent bookstore was what I imagine heaven would be like.

I live in a city of 160k individuals, in a metro area of 330k, and there’s no independent bookstore here. There’s exactly one bookstore that stocks current books (no disrespect to the few that sell used books; I’m a devoted patron and thrilled they’re here) and they’re a chain whose future is uncertain at best. I support my local library as best I can, but it’s hard to be optimistic about the future of the printed word. The level of talent — Teju Cole, Tom Rachman, Téa Obreht — just to name names that literally just popped into my head is incredible. Literature has a future. That can’t be doubted. But whither print? I’ve gotten accustomed to reading on a retina-display screen, but what made me who I am, what created *me* as you know me, what changed my life were mornings spent before dawn in a dilapidated recliner reading beat-up paperbacks and 800-page clothbound tomes the essence of which emanated from each and every yellowed page — what did that was the written word.

~ by Benji on June 14, 2014.

2 Responses to “I have a problem.”

  1. […] I have a problem.. […]


  2. Oh, beautiful! Yes, books ARE to be treasured. They are physical. The battery for the Kindle that my former boss gave me as a gift ran out about a year ago. The Dore Inferno is a treasure indeed. Problem is, if you live in the tropics, tiny insects devour, humidity creeps in… Many of my books were destroyed by a hurricane! They literally have a short shelf life. But still, I cherish them… I don’t have 2,000 but maybe about 500.

    Liked by 1 person

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