Thursday, August 03, 2006

BOOKS EVERYWHERE -- Confessions of a junkie -- August 3

We knew the day would come when we're standing in our living room surrounded by a thicket of boxes. The sofa emerges from its paper wrapping then legs and boards with screw holes from disassembled tables. Bit and pieces of a telescope, then items shaped like pretzels with clinking parts that go straight to the garage. The first couple of days we do the easy part of assembling furniture, putting away the kitchen so that our palatial house looks lived in -- albeit by a couple of 60s hippies. But then we have to face the inevitable cube-like boxes with all of our books.

The guys who unloaded our container noticed them and shook their heads each time they picked up one more. Our book collection doubled when Amber and I got married. We didn't read the same books, and couldn't weed out duplicates. Why the hell do we hang onto them? What are the chances that I'm going to dip into that Polish scifi novel I finished ten years ago, or the Neil Gunn kitchen-sink novel set in the Hebrides that I couldn't get into? I must be nuts to keep so many when these days it takes me a month to plough through a paperback. Then there are our piles of non fiction books, an endless blether of people's opinions on life, the universe and so on. Or accounts of their experiences. Amber's boxed cookbooks accumulated over twenty years, stand floor to ceiling along one wall. Unopened these boxes sat in our Houston garage for a year, keeping my book boxes company. I doubt the contents will enjoy a brighter existence in Bonnie Scotland.

As writers, we must think that books are somehow important or why would we want to spill more ink on paper and cut down more trees for paper? Yet when I walk into Waterstones (the local Barnes & Noble) and stare at the endless paperbacks on the shelves, or stacks of bestsellers on the floor, I feel the irresistible urge to put a match to the lot. After I've walked out with a small armload of volumes worth hanging onto. It's not because Waterstones doesn't carry "Immortality Machine", at least not yet. It's because there's so much stuff, repetitive plots, many of them badly written, published for no merit other than their ability to generate money. Stacks of displays with Da Vinci Code derivatives bombard you at the door. Three times I tried to read the book, but the choppy sentence construction caused me so much pain that I had to stop. Evidently the reading public doesn't have my problem, but then I cannot stomach McDonald's burgers, Budwieser, Desperate Housewives, Big Brother or other best sellers.

Staring at my bookshelf, I realize that I value the books because I worked so hard to fish them out of the sea of chaff, and then found them delightful or inspiring in some way. A few bestsellers like "The Lord of the Rings" grace Waterstones' shelves today, but most don't. They're obscure volumes that lost money when they were first published. I've read "A Voyage to Arcturus" ten times. The first edition sold four hundred copies. Its author later died from bad teeth. The book is still in print but Waterstones has no room on its shelves. They need the space for Dan Brown, Jackie Collins and the ever expanding Crime section.

One day I'll have to face the unpleasant truth that we're just book junkies. Need the stuff around for an occasional fix, but can't get rid of it.

but did the kitchen table make it in one piece???
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