Confessions of a book fiend by Quentin Bates

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They’re everywhere, sneaking into corners and taking up residence, lying quietly and unnoticed behind doors and under beds, making shelves creak during the night. It’s an affliction, but not necessarily a bad one. There are others that are so much worse.

It’s the books. There are people who have own books. It’s true, I’ve been inside houses occasionally where there isn’t a shred of printed matter to be seen other than a Chinese takeaway menu, a glossy gossip mag or the ragged remnants of a newspaper lining the floor of the budgie’s cage. These people can be recognised by the blank smile, the dead eyes and the pallor that comes of spending hours in front of the TV having entertainment forced down their necks.

I’m not one of them. I’ll put up my hand and admit happily that books are an essential part of life and I couldn’t imagine an existence without a book within easy reach. The idea of not being able to read when presented with the occasional empty moment is painful. If I have to travel somewhere, then it used to be three books, minimum; one to read, another to read when the first one’s finished and a spare in case the second book turned out not to hit the spot. These days it’s two books and a Kindle, but that’s another story.

The place I live in full of books. They’re everywhere; on shelves and in piles here and there. There are boxes in the attic and the To-Be-Read pile has spread to the shed and even to the car. I’ll freely admit that I acquire books faster than I can read them, both new and used from second-hand shops and car boot sales. A 1933 guide to British trees? A quid? I’ll have that. A 1951 first edition Simenon? A fiver? Well, all right. An account of the Mesopotamia campaign in the air by ‘Tailspin’ published privately in 1923? Why not? I’ll give it a good home. You get the picture. Walking past a bookshop without having a quick look is almost palpably painful, especially somewhere with dark shelves at the back loaded with the contents of a former public library of the kind that are being shamefully closed down across modern Britain. Even at the height of the Great Depression in the 1930s, when times really were tough, the idea of closing libraries was not even mooted. But times have changed, and in Hampshire where I live, libraries are no longer libraries. They’re ‘Discovery Centres’, which means a café, a row of subsidised PCs and a few books at the back somewhere.

A few years ago, under pressure from the management, I got rid of a lot of books, carting ten boxes of unwanted books to the nearest charity shop. It wasn’t easy to see much difference afterwards. A few shelves looked on the light side, and admittedly I did get rid of some of the stuff that nobody was ever going to read. But as I tend to browse the same shops that took those books, I almost certainly ended up buying a few of them back and it wasn’t long before those thin shelves had got back to their normal plump selves.

Three days into 2013, and I’ve acquired a dozen or so books over Christmas and New Year, although some were presents. In those days I’ve read four, so it should be possible for a boffin with a slide rule to calculate precisely the average book size and volume, and to work out from there the exact date when I’ll have to move out and sleep in the greenhouse (as the shed will also be full by then). That date will also be skewed by the presence of the boxes containing a small library owned by my daughter, who is currently studying abroad, who may one day return to claim her books. On the other hand, as she suffers from the same affliction, she may decide to leave them and replace them with others.

Then there’s the Kindle. It was a present and I wasn’t sure I was going to like it. In fact, I like it a lot more than I had expected. I’m not reading any fewer dead tree books, and the Kindle complements ‘real’ books rather than replacing them. I use it in times and places where I would normally read, and it has helped me discover stuff that I might not otherwise have come across.

So it hasn’t solved the problem of the To-Be-Read pile. Instead, the Kindle is becoming a To-Be-Read pile on its own account, in addition to the TBR piles in the bedroom, living room, kitchen and shed, plus the handful of books in the car that are dangerously close to metamorphosing into a fledgling TBR pile in their own right. Not that I see the TBR problem as a problem; to take one of those trite management aphorisms, I see it more as an opportunity. To some people it may be a house full of books, to me it’s a lot of old friends and plenty of choice.

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Quentin Bates
5 comments on “Confessions of a book fiend by Quentin Bates
  1. Good one, Quentin. When I was 10 years old, my mate and I did what all curious 10 year old boys did at the time – we checked the dumpsters behind a big apartment complex periodically. One day we a found a massive amount of good condition paperback books. Mostly, Valley of the Dolls type stuff that we had neither the vocabulary or imagination to be titillated by. So we did what enterprising young American boys do: we gathered them all up and went door to door selling the books at the very same apartment complex we had found them at. Back then you could pick up a paperback for a dime at a yard sale so our price was 5 cents a piece. We found only one customer that day – I still remember him, a very fat man who smiled when he saw what we had. He bought about 6 books that afternoon. Quite a score for us lads at the time. To this day I am convinced that our lone customer was the very same man who had thrown those books in the dumpster in the first place. Old friends are difficult to part with, particularly when you can get them back for a nickle. Cheers.

  2. Yes,I can relate to this in every way.My bookshelves groan under the weight of books read and for the most part,hugely enjoyed. So much so,they stay with me.I’m forever receiving hints that ‘a little cull’ might be a good idea but,to date,I’ve managed to change the subject.Anyway,being surrounded by books helps me write.Well,that’s my story.
    Great blog.Thank you and best wishes for 2013.

  3. Thanks, gentlemen. Quite right!
    If you get rid of a book, you can be sure that not a week will pass before you feel a burning need to look something up in just that book.
    To be on the safe side, it’s best not to let them go at all.

  4. You might want
    to check out the story of the couple in Saskatchewan who bought an enormous old book collection, then bought a house to house the collection which was then condemned as collapsing under the weight etc. The news stories in Canada never said if they read any of them.

  5. I love this post, it sounds just like me, although I don’t have a Kindle. My very small two-bedroom house is overflowing with books. I think my TBR is around the 1200 mark at the moment, and I add to it all the time.

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