I recently discovered that my obsession with the written word had reached new heights when, upon wrestling with my tax return, I became aware that I had spent more than a sizeable chunk of my salary on books over the past year. I should have known: the first floor of my house sags under the weight of bulging bookshelves, and my bed is surrounded by piles of books that are constantly being trodden on, or chewed by one of my curious dogs.
I initially felt sick when I thought of all the other things I could have done with that money – painting the lounge, replacing the carpet – but a friend soon reminded me that books are integral to the fabric of my life – or at least my sanity – and that I can’t function without them. I read at every opportunity and am amazed at how I find enough snippets of time to finish reading at least one book a week. I carry a book with me everywhere I go, just in case there’s a gap in my day that could be filled with reading.
I buy books for research, inspiration or because they promise to be a damn good read. As a designer, I sometimes buy books for their cover or overall design, but like most normal people, I generally buy books for their content. My library has become an eclectic display of my interests and personality. Occasionally people visiting my house view my bookshelves in awe and ask, ‘Have you read them all?’ Of course, the answer is ‘No’. I don’t have the time to read all the books that I buy, and often I sell them to secondhand bookshops or on eBay before I’ve even gotten around to reading them.
Anthony Burgess once said, ‘The possession of a book becomes a substitute for reading it.’ This is probably true. A book borrowed from the library is more likely to be read than a book purchased, simply because a library book has an expiry date. A bought book can sit on the shelf indefinitely, offering the false promise of one day being read. I sometimes come across books on my shelves that I’m convinced I’ve read but later discover I haven’t. From time to time I even accidentally buy books that I’ve already bought before.
Since realising I have become a book glutton, and that my house is probably only standing thanks to these columns of compacted, neatly trimmed paper, I made what I thought would be an easy decision: to reduce, or even stop my spending, and to be more selective about the tomes I did in fact purchase. For several weeks I refused to go into a bookshop for fear that I would walk out with my usual armful of books. I literally had to avert my gaze each time I passed a bookshop and pretend it didn’t exist. I had to resist the overwhelming urge to just pop in for a look because, to be honest, it’s the literary equivalent of going to the pub for a cup of coffee. You’re going to have a drink and you know it. I did this for several weeks, to the point where I thought I might in fact be a recovering bibliophile, but then, one day, I forgot what I was doing and stepped through the door of the bookshop.
I immediately began browsing the bargains table, the new release fiction, the new release non-fiction, the literary journals, the design mags, the history, literature and philosophy sections, the art and design section, the DVDs, the music section and finally, the children’s picture books. I threw myself to merry abandon, and after all that browsing, all that temptation, I just couldn’t resist. I purchased a book. In fact, I purchased several books. That’s right, I threw caution to the wind, took out my visa card, swiped it through the machine and made yet another financial sacrifice to the god of bibliomania.
It was foolish to even think I could stop. It’s a habit, an addiction – virtuous or otherwise – and not one that I can see myself giving up anytime soon.