Thursday, September 15, 2011

Confessions of a Bookaholic

On July 4 weekend, I decided to stroll up to Walden Pond, my local (about a mile away) progressive independent bookstore. One of my goals was to find interesting authors to interview on Women’s Magazine, and I did – a couple weeks ago, I interviewed the highly entertaining and knowledgeable Leonard Sax, whose book Girls on the Edge: The Four Factors Driving the New Crisis for Girls seemed really on point to me. I especially liked the sections on sexuality and the “cyberbubble.” Dr Sax agrees that “crisis” is kind of melodramatic – he explained that noncelebrity authors don’t get to pick their titles. But the problems he identified correspond to the ones that most of the teenage girls I know (and their parents) are dealing with.
I picked up the Sax book and headed to the counter, but on the way, of course I had to stop by the Staff Picks table. Oh my Goddess. There was a Maisie Dobbs I hadn’t read. Okay, that was a no-brainer. Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad. Someone in a writing class I had just taken was naming Jennifer Egan among her favorite writers. Plus anything that has goon squad in the title is sure to be up my alley. As it turns out, it was and wasn’t. But I wouldn’t know that if I hadn’t bought it.

Thanks to zimpenfish, whose room looks
even worse than mine
I stuffed my new books in my version of Hermione Granger’s infinitely expandable purse and headed home, one shoulder drooping with the weight. Wait, what’s that? A box of free books, lurking by the side of a ramshackle apartment building. I tried to make myself walk by, but then a little voice said, “You just spent $40 on books, and you’re going to turn down free ones? What kind of American are you?” There were some mysteries by writers I like – a Nevada Barr, a Linda Barnes, and a historical mystery about Tudor England with a blurb by P.D. James – couldn’t resist. I added four or five to my bag and stumbled home in danger of becoming a hunchback (the protagonist of the Tudor England book, which I’m reading now, is a hunchback).

Fortunately, a few years ago, someone left a disassembled Ikea bookcase in my storage space. She was going to come get it in a few days, but she never did. When I moved, I took it with me, even though I wasn’t sure I would be able to figure out how to put it together or that I would have a place for it if I did. I decided the time had come to break it out. I figured out what little parts I needed that I didn’t have and went to Ikea and picked them up and came home and managed to assemble it without too much difficulty – you’ve met one Ikea cabinet, you pretty much know them all. Cool. Now I had six new shelves to fill. I unpacked the last box of books that had been waiting in my new house for a home and then stacked all my new books on the remaining shelves and STILL had a couple empty shelves. I cannot tell you what joy filled my heart.

A couple month later, the shelves are nearly full. I got books for my birthday: Sherman Alexie, Patty Smith, The Devil’s Highway by Luis Alberto Urrea, a great book about Pluto and two about witchcraft. I special ordered The New Jim Crow from Book Passages. I was sent review copies of several new feminist books.

The other night I went to visit a friend who just returned from China and Africa. She has a new roommate moving in so she needs to clear out bookshelves. She had put aside about ten mysteries she thought I would like. Then she started throwing other books at me: do you want this? How about this? She handed me Joel Beinin’s Was The Red Flag Flying There? a history of Marxism in Palestine. I tried to resist. It’s the kind of book I would look at and think I should read, not really the kind I will read. But if I didn’t take it, she was going to give it away. Couldn’t let that happen. I might want it sometime. She tried to give me The Tragedy of Zionism by Bernard Avishai but fortunately, I remembered I already have it. As I heaved the overflowing bag of books into my car, I said, “I will not buy another book until I have read all these.”

That was five days ago and I haven’t bought a book. So maybe I’m kicking the habit?

On his way to lunch, my coworker said he had just heard on the radio that the U.S. Census Bureau is reporting what he has known for years: that this is the first generation of kids who will not outlive their parents. He implied that this finding was based on the increase in environmental toxins, nuclear accidents, oil spills and depleted uranium. I was surprised and a little skeptical, because that sounded awfully political for the Census Bureau. I also wondered which generation they were actually talking about – mine (I think we’re officially the Me Generation)? Gen X? Gen Y? The kids being born now, whose gen doesn’t have a name yet? While he was at lunch, I went looking for it on the net. Didn’t find it. What I did find were about a thousand articles projecting that today’s children will not outlive their parents because of – you guessed it, childhood obesity. And among the many prognostications of gloom and fat – none of which, as far as I could tell, contained any actual statistical evidence that kids are going to die sooner than their parents - was a diamond in the rough called “What Michelle Obama's childhood obesity project gets wrong,” by Kate Harding. I clicked on the link taking me to Harding’s blog, and there I found out that she is a coeditor of a book called Feed Me!: Writers Dish about Food, Eating, Weight, and Body Image.  I really think I might have to have that book. I didn’t buy it, but I recalled that I actually have some money on a Powell’s gift card yet to be spent.

My coworker came back from lunch and I asked him if he remembered where he heard about that census data. He said it was on Randi Rhoads’ show and allowed as how it might not have actually been from the Census Bureau. He said Randi usually has her sources on her website, so I went to it. Didn’t find anything about that segment, but I did find an op-ed about the social base of Tea Party, authored by two professors named David E. Campbell and Robert D. Putnam who, I learned, are the authors of American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us.  Oh no. That sounds so interesting.
The op-ed was in the New York Times, and while I was there, my eye fell on another opinion piece, this one about the educational value of various types of homework. Some of you know that this is an obsession of mine. Don’t ask me why, either bad memories of time spent making castles out of sugar cubes as a kid or maybe it’s that several nights a week when I get home from work and a meeting or social gathering, I have to spend a few hours working on a blog or a radio show. Anyway, this article, which I found fascinating, cited various studies on how people learn, including “spaced repetition” (you retain material better if you see it a number of different times for shorter periods, rather than for a longer period all at once) and “retrieval practice” (drills and tests) was written by Annie Murphy Paul, and of course she has a book too, called Origins: How the Nine Months Before Birth Shape the Rest of Our Lives. Really exciting to me, especially since I just read something else that seemed to dispute the premise that prenatal experience is crucial in our development. And hey, this book is about pregnancy so that would be a natural for Women’s Magazine, which means … I might have to get it.

Now you might ask, why don’t I get these books at the library? I’ll tell you: because I don’t read fast. Plus with all this blogging and keeping a weekly radio show on the air, I don’t have as much time for reading as I wish I did. So when I go to the library, I see four things I want and get them all, but then I don’t always get through them in three weeks, and I end up owing fines. I know you can renew stuff online nowadays, but the fact is, I’m just not that organized. I like having a choice of what to read, being able to start something, put it down, start something else, come back to the first one, have several half-read choices on my nightstand. Call me old-fashioned.

Okay, so I’m obviously a bookaholic. But my question is, is that a problem? I mean, it’s a harmless addiction, right? It might even be called healthy – after all, reading is better for me than watching TV, isn’t it? Less likely to make me obese, anyway, from what I’ve read on the net. In fact, book-buying might be called paying it forward, since I am hoping people are some day going to buy my book(s). (Okay, for those of you who have been bugging me about when Murder Under the Bridge is going to be available to buy - don’t start. Soon, I promise.) But consider this: what if, some day, the weight of all my books causes my apartment to slide into the mud? And since I’m on the first floor, the apartment upstairs from me could collapse.

Maybe I’d better check out Books Anonymous. No doubt some of the other people there will be trying to cleanse by giving away their books.

1 comment:

  1. I'm a bookaholic too. For me, It's not a problem nor harmless addiction. You're right! It might be called healthy and Reading also is better for me than watching TV. For now, I'm addicted on reading magazine for Christian women.