I have been a voracious reader since — well, I don’t have a memory of not being able to read. I don’t even have a memory of learning to read Dick and Jane. I was, as my mother might say, a “reading fool.”
I remember reading my mother’s books:
(I used to have a Polaroid that my father had taken of me: I’m about six month old. Someone has put me on a bench covered with newspaper. I’m on my stomach and have managed to prop myself up on my forearms, but my face is downward. I look to be reading the paper. That photo used to make me laugh and think, Even then, even then. No wonder I’m so nearsighted!) Anyway, I read everything. I cried for David Copperfield. I read my mother and stepfather’s sex textbook with the acetate overlays of the external and internal human body. Death Be Not Proud scared me.
I received an excellent public school education, so in addition to developing voraciousness, I learned to read fast and to read deeply, which led to another level of enjoyment beyond the story.
I was not a picky reader. I read crime novels, mysteries, and good “trash.” Whatever. As long as it was a good story.
and Richard Wright.
This was 1968. What universe had I been living in not to have discovered sooner that there was such a being as a black author! This is when I graduated from library checker-outer to book-buyer. I became a book-buyin’ fool!
I became a collector, managing to save every college textbook. I had never met a book that didn’t have a home with me. I had coffee table books and bathroom books, kitchen books and bedroom books, fiction, poetry, mysteries, psychology, writing, reference and health, books on religion and [philosophy and spirituality, and not one of them, let me tell you, were for show. Many were re-read and referred to, right down to marginal notes. If I loaned them, I kept track of where and when. Uh-huh. Just like a librarian.
My books were me…and I was them. And if you didn’t return them…enough said.
Not yet a practicing Buddhist, I knew a lot about the theories of attachment — grasping — and letting go. I would have my first memorable experience around 1994, when I moved and put just about everything into storage. Unforeseen issues arose and I lost all the items to an auction. It seemed I had thousands. I was forty-seven by then. I lost my books. It was so devastating that I actively tried to forget about them, but I couldn’t. I lost my books. Sometimes I had a desire to reread Absalom, Absalom or The Bluest Eye or “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” or The Orchard Keeper or The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Sometimes I stopped at vendors’ tables, inwardly shaking, thinking I might spot one of the lost. I imagined that I might throw up. Or snatch it and run.
Last summer I did something I had never been able to do.
I got rid of books. I. Gave. Them. Away. I evicted them.
I put boxes of books on the sidewalk because I live in an apartment that can’t accommodate many. I couldn’t have done that before the storage auction or the fire. My thought was to let others enjoy them. But it wasn’t a willy-nilly act. I prioritized: This one stays, that one goes. I sat outside and watched while people stopped, looked, and then took what they wanted. And that made me feel happy. It was painless.
I should add that this year I purchased The Nook. I don’t know. It’s not so easy being attached to an electronic book, and that, for me, is a good thing.