Buying books is an irrational act. I can prove this with one quick look around my office. I’ve got a thousand books here and I’ve not read half.
Why is this? For decades my excuse was “I’m running a bookstore.” Although my customers were buying and sometimes reading books, I didn’t have time for that. After I finished staff meetings, meetings with book salespeople, email and promotions, fixing things, thinking about fixing things, hiring people and the opposite, working the front counter, shipping and receiving, going to trade shows and education seminars, and the rest, I was way too busy to read books.
Booksellers don’t read. It’s as simple as that. If they do read, it’s in the corners of time, around the edges of space, in other dimensions. In this world: not enough time.
Now that I’m several years into the space sardonically referred to as “retired” I find I do have more time to read. Not enough time, but more.
Like an already-gorged gourmand who eats out too much, I find myself in bookstores wherever I go, and rarely leave without a couple of books under my arm. Often I get to read part of them, but usually I’m distracted by the next new bag of books from somewhere. It never stops, nor do I wish it to.
And I fear I’m not alone. Many listeners to and readers of this show have told me they can’t stop acquiring books, and reading them. It’s a lovely obsession.
Not long ago I found on a bookshelf in my study an uncorrected bound galley of a book to be published in April, 1998. I dug right in, eleven years late: “Sleeping Where I Fall” by Peter Coyote, the famous actor and reformed hippie. This is a scary good book. Why isn’t it more famous?
It will be good therapy for me, and perhaps instructive for you, if I describe my latest acquisitions here. First step: Admit you are powerless to stop acquiring and reading books.
First, the new, unread by anyone books: I recently purchased Peter W. Stearn’s “A Journey in Time,” a gorgeous hardbound art book depicting the wildflowers of Mendocino county arranged by month of bloom. This is a book I hand–sold many times but never snagged for myself. Now I can tell the difference between Queen Anne’s Lace and Yampah, Yarrow and Cow’s Parsnip, Angelica and Pearly Everlasting.
Other new books I plan to use or read or both: “The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes, Volume One,” “Wildlife of the North Atlantic” “The People of the Sea” by David Thomson, “Waking Up in Eden” by Lucinda Fleeson, “Coastal Wildflowers of the Pacific Northwest,” “The Kingdom by the Sea” by Paul Theroux, “Coasting” by Jonathan Raban, “The 25th Hour” by David Benioff, “The Spies of Warsaw” by Alan Furst, “The Language of Bees” by Laurie R. King.
Then there’s a group of books I picked up on various whims in various used bookstores. You’ll see the patterns: “Merda! The REAL Italian You Were Never Taught in School” by Roland Delicio, “The Italian Secretary” by Caleb Carr, “The Piano Shop in the Left Bank” by Thad Carhart, “Gentlemen, More Dolce Please!, An Irreverent Memoir of Thirty-five Years in the Boston Symphony Orchestra” by Harry Ellis Dickson, “Real Men Don’t Rehearse, Adventures in the Secret World of Professional Orchestras” by Justin Locke, “Evenings with the Orchestra” by Hector Berlioz, “The Oxford Book of American Literary Anecdotes,” “The Monopoly Companion,” and “Kipling, A Selection of His Stories and Poems.”
The Kipling book was poised on a sidewalk cart in very good condition outside a metaphysical bookstore in Ashland, Oregon. When I saw the book I knew it finally was time to get to know Rudyard Kipling. I don’t know why that made sense, but that’s what I was thinking as I picked it up and stroked its curry-yellow dust jacket.
Each of these books (maybe with the exception of the Monopoly book) was purchased for a reason. Some I’m keeping for dessert, like the Furst and the Carr; others to read or re-read as background for future travel adventures.
And a few good literary anecdotes might come in handy some time.
And I’ve always wanted to finally, just finally, win one darn game of Monopoly.