February 2nd, 2008

bad books


For someone as perpetually busy as I am, a weekend with no plans is both soothing and disorienting. I'm constantly torn between the need to relax and the urge to fill my time. I need the downtime, my shivering soul protests, but my brain won't stop buzzing. Everywhere I look there is, of course, something to be done, a project half-finished looking at me reproachfully, dust bunnies prowling under the bed.

The bathroom needs scrubbing and I dutifully swab the decks but my heart's not in it. Laundry goes in, yet another load in the endless cycle. I close my eyes to all the feelers reaching for me, the to-do lists in my brain that flutter down and wrap my mind in sticky gauze and I pick up an old beloved book and read for an hour instead.

While my family was gone I went through my library list and looked at every book on every shelf (except the kid's books in their rooms...those are still to be done). I am the only person I know who keeps an inventory of my books. Lists make me happy and lists of books bring that happiness to a peak. I did the list 11 years ago, before we moved to Sweden, because the moving company insisted on a written inventory of EVERY SINGLE ITEM we owned for insurance purposes.

We had more than 2000 books then. We have more now. I say we, but I mean I. I have more now. Every time I buy a book I add it to the list. Okay, I confess, it's actually an Excel spreadsheet. I read so much and so fast that I can no longer remember every book I have or have read and must keep track so that I'm not constantly buying duplicates.

I can remember my first bookshelf. It was a little brown cabinet that my mom gave me. I think it held records before I inherited it. It was short and squat and dark brown with 2 doors and 2 really deep shelves. I filled it with books and I knew every one. A Wrinkle in Time, Turi's Poppa, Mandy, The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles, The Little Broomstick, Lad: A Dog, Little Women, Heidi, James and the Giant Peach, Nancy Drew, all those lovely-smelling hardcovers with birthday and christmas notes written in the flyleafs, in my parents' handwriting, or my grandparents'.

Later, when I was old enough to be spending my own allowance, I invariably spent it on books and I began adding paperbacks. I read them over and over and over. Some books I own have been read so many times that the titles on the spines are all but unreadable from being cracked in every possible place.

I don't keep every book I read, of course. If I did, the house would have been reduced to small pathways between towering piles of paperbacks long ago; the kids trapped in their rooms, the only available seating a reading chair with good light. Each time I finish a book now, it is kept or discarded on the basic criteria of the answer to the question: did I like it enough to read it again? If the answer is no, it goes in the bag for the annual AWC media sale. If the answer is yes, I must make space on the already over-crowded shelves, which have now begun to be two rows deep in places, despite my real strictness with myself and my periodic sweeps of purging.

I don't get panicky about many things but the idea that I might not get around to reading all the books I want to read makes my chest tighten. All the books on my list, all the books I haven't discovered yet, all the books my favorite authors have yet to write. And all the ones I loved and want to immerse myself in and visit with again.
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