Thursday, January 12, 2006

The Story of a Bookaholic

Hello, my name is ell.

[Hello, ell]

I’m a bookaholic. It’s been two months, three weeks and one day since I bought a book.

[Applause]

I didn’t think I had a problem, but now I know I was out of control. They tried to tell me - my family, that is. They told me I needed help. But I wouldn’t listen. I kept telling them it’s not a problem. Funny thing is, I really believed it – that I didn’t have a problem. How can you have a problem with books?

Thing is, normal people don’t. But I guess I’m not your normal person. I’m sick.

I should start at the beginning.

When I was little, before I even started school, I liked books. I figured out how to decipher simple words in Disney picture books that I got from an aunt. By the time I was in grade one, I was zipping through the easy Dick and Jane stories. If I finished my work early, Mrs. Mitchell would let me look at extra books she had on her Special Shelf. I liked how they smelled and felt. Sometimes, she’d have brand new ones. I was from a poor family and we couldn’t spend money on extras like books. The only time I got books was from that aunt on my birthday. But I didn’t see her much, so I didn’t have many books at home. I think Mrs. Mitchell felt sorry for me and bought books for her special shelf just for me.

New books are the best. The pages are perfectly smooth and the corners nice and crisp. Do you know how to tell when a book is really, like, brand new? When they’re really new, the pages stick together at the edges. That’s when you know for sure no one else has read it before. I guess that’s when my addiction started. It wasn’t Mrs. Mitchell’s fault. How could she have known?

It wasn’t a real problem at first. I only had access to books at school and later on at the public library. They were mostly old and tattered copies, so other than reading them, I didn’t get any extra enjoyment from them. When I think back, my problem didn’t start until I graduated and got a full-time job. I suddenly had cash to spend on new books.

What really and truly got me hooked was Duthie’s Books; a two-level store with shelves built into every nook and cranny available; the shelves brimming with books of every conceivable topic. You descended to the lower level by way of a narrow, spiralling metal staircase. If you were a fantasy lover, I’m sure it would feel like entering the lower depths of a dungeon. The ceiling was low and the lighting dim. It made sense that books of the occult were shelved down there. Every turn of a corner brought me to a new topic or author unknown to me. I loved it. I spent hours browsing new books. The browsing and touching was almost as exciting as the buying.

In the beginning, I limited myself to book hunting only after I cashed a paycheque. It didn’t take long before it escalated into stopping for a “quick look” on my way to or from work. Then I'd make excuses to stop at different bookstores to compare prices. Pretty soon I’d go in every bookstore I came across.

I started losing track of time. Some days, I couldn’t account for hours at a time. A simple trip to the grocery story would find me at home, five hours later with no groceries. Instead, there’d be a bag of books on the kitchen table from some unknown bookstore.

It wasn’t just time I was losing. Money, or the lack of it, became an issue. My paycheque was spent before it was cashed. My credit cards were at their limit. I was paying the minimum balance on every card and the total owing just kept growing and growing.

When I first started buying books, only new releases in hardcover would do. I was a bit of a snob that way. I soon realized I couldn’t afford to buy at the pace I wanted with the income I had, so I made myself wait until the new releases went to paperback. That way, I could buy the hardcovers on sale, but over time, it was still too expensive. So I started buying trade paperbacks. Still, too expensive. I began buying mass market paperbacks, then bargain bin books, then used hardcovers, and then, finally . . . I have to admit it . . . used paperbacks. My decline was rapid. And I still had a money problem.

Despite all this, I was able to fool friends and family for a long time. I was very good at hiding new purchases - backs of closets, under the bed, behind the china cabinet, the back of the linen closet. I even stashed a few older paperbacks in Ziploc bags in the deepfreeze.

I finally got caught when I didn’t show up for work the day I was to make an important presentation. My boss called home and spoke to my brother who said I’d left for work at the usual time. Later that day, my brother saw me at the local mega-bookstore. I guess I hadn’t fooled him as well as I thought.

When I got home that night, he confronted me. He said he’d found a stash of books behind the bedroom curtains and a balled up bunch of shopping bags from different bookstores shoved in the back of my closet. I went on the offensive. How dare you invade my privacy, how could you snoop in my things, you have no right, etc., etc. Eventually, I broke down and admitted that things were a little out of control. We had a family meeting and I assured everyone that it would be okay. I said I could control myself because knowing you have a problem is half the battle, blah, blah, blah.

Things improved, but not for long. I was soon back to my old ways. Unfortunately, the family was wise to me now. They were on the lookout for telltale signs – torn, crumpled receipts, bulges under the mattress. I couldn’t fool them anymore.

I went to counselling just to get everyone off my back. It was a joke, really. You’d be surprised at how easy it is to fool shrinks. Just tell them you’re sorry, your life is a wreck and you need to change. Talk about your feelings. Yeah, talk about feelings. They like that. Anyways, I fooled them again – at least for awhile. But then I’d slip up; leave the occasional receipt lying around. Yeah, I was a sad case.

But you know what was the most pathetic thing of all? I was spending so much time buying books and trying to hide my addiction that I never got around to reading them. Yep, that’s right. Books were piling up everywhere and I hadn’t read a single one of them. Like I said, PATHETIC.

I finally hit bottom when my family kicked me and all my books out of the house. I was left to fend for myself. I’d lost my job, my home, my family. With shopping carts I nicked from a grocery store parking lot, I loaded up my books. I found a place in a rooming house, but after the first night, the manager demanded that I get rid of the books or leave. There wasn’t room for both. I decided to leave.

With my shopping carts full of books, I lurched my way through the streets, pushing one cart forward a half block, then going back for another, pushing that one forward, going back for another and another, then starting all over again, until - almost by miracle - I saw a flickering sign, “Need a Friend? – Books Welcome”.

I staggered towards the light. Yes, it’s what I thought it said.

Underneath, I could see an arched doorway with a warm orangey light reflected through the glassed upper half of the door. I thought, what the heck, it couldn’t hurt. I stepped through the door and found SALVATION. I found this place, this place right here.

I can honestly say that I wouldn’t be around today if I hadn’t come through that door. With the fellowship and support I’ve found here, I realize that I don’t have to constantly buy books. I can live happily with what I have.

I know that all I have to do is read the books I have – One Book at a Time.

...

6 comments:

Joy said...

Hilarious post! I identify.

Walt Vegas said...

Loved it, ell.

ell said...

More truth to that story than I'd like to admit. :D

Simply Coll said...

This is soooo funny and soooo true. Just walking into a book store makes me high.

Anonymous said...

Wow, for a moment there I really thought you weren't kidding. But then I thought, naaah, no way.

Nobody would really start looking for books stashed behind backs of closets.

Would they?

ds

ell said...

A few years back, I actually found a book I'd hidden in the back of my closet. It was meant to be a gift for someone, but I'd completely forgotten about it. It was no longer appropriate for that person, so I kept it for my own library. :D