It’s been said that the first step to addressing a problem is admitting you have one.
I’m not ready to admit it just yet, but others, my wife among them, might say I’ve got a bit of a book problem.
I’d argue that books can’t easily be labeled a problem, and that there are far worse vices out there. But, I am willing to concede my bookshelves are getting a little out of hand.
The shelves in our living room — two built into the wall on either side of the TV, plus a large, antique lawyers case at the back of the room — are veritably stuffed at this point. There are books lined and stacked and wedged-in every which way. There’s a tiny bit of space on them reserved for a few decorative touches — my wife would question whether a Tim Tebow Columbia Fireflies bobblehead doll is a “decorative touch,” but I digress — but mostly it’s just books.
There are hardcovers and paperbacks, fiction and nonfiction. There are murder mysteries and political memoirs, books about travel and media and sports and music and film. There are fat coffee table books, and thin little novellas that are perfectly consumed in an afternoon. There are novels from some of the most prolific authors who have ever lived — not sure, exactly, how Stephen King has the time to write that much — and writers who might have only gotten one novel off the ground.
I’m sure I have a few fellow readers out there, though today there are obviously multiple ways in which to consume a “book.” My wife is a huge fan of audiobooks and listens to them when she’s in the car, linking her phone to the car’s Bluetooth. I’m sure others read on their tablets or even their phone screens, in a pinch. As you can tell, I still prefer the old-fashioned way. Paper bound together, a vessel of knowledge or adventure or romance or comedy that is still built to stand the test of time.
And yet, despite these stuffed shelves, I continue to acquire new books. I always have to be in the midst of a book, to have something I’m reading in the evenings and in my free time. Right now I’m in the middle of “No Time Like The Future — An Optimist Considers Mortality” by actor and Parkinson’s Disease activist Michael J. Fox. I’ll openly admit the tears have flowed multiple times, so far.
I love leisurely browsing at 2nd & Charles, the massive used bookstore not far from our house, on a Sunday afternoon, and I drive my wife and daughter a little crazy with it. For me, “going to the bookstore” isn’t a short trip where I poke around in there for 10 minutes and then hurry out, off to the next stop. I could get lost in there for an afternoon, looking for the next story that will take me away. (My family and friends recognize this, bless them, which is why I have three bookstore gift cards in my wallet right now, with various balances remaining on them.)
And despite my seemingly neverending drive to collect new (or new to me) books, I often find myself seeking the comfort of ones that I’ve had for years. I’ve got a group of books that I make sure to read once a year.
There’s “Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer” by Warren St. John, an endlessly colorful account of the zeal the South shows for college football. Or “The Last Juror” by John Grisham, though I admit the thumb is on the scale a bit for that one, as it’s about a newspaper reporter in a small Southern town, and the character’s last name is Traynor. Or “Last Night at the Lobster,” a wonderful little novel from author Stewart O’Nan. It’s a paean to the working class and its story will be instantly recognizable to anyone who has ever worked a shift in a restaurant.
Ok, so maybe I have a little bit of a problem. But it’s a good problem.