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The Mad Scribbler



Confessions of a


"Where is human nature so weak as in
the bookstore?"

— Henry Ward Beecher


As recounted in last month's column, I have just bought my first home, a newly-rehabbed Victorian townhouse.

Although I spent my first week here being poisoned by a sewer-gas leak (problem solved now), home ownership is otherwise going fairly well so far.

This two-bedroom house is modest in size, but it's nonetheless at least 40 percent bigger than any place I've ever rented. This increase in my living space offered me a golden opportunity that I'm sure is immediately apparent to my fellow writers: For the first time in my adult life, I contemplated the prospect of unpacking and shelving all my books!

In the weeks after moving into this house, I spent a small fortune on buying additional bookcases. One of them, a gorgeously hand-carved bookcase imported from Southeast Asia, is so massive and heavy that I and two strong young men barely survived getting it from the truck to my living room with the help of a moving dolly and a ramp. Another is big enough that the lads had trouble getting it up my stairs to my office. Several of the new cases are so tall that I have to stand on a step ladder to reach the higher shelves. (Actually, this is true of many things here, since the ceilings are over 10 feet high, and the builders evidently assumed that the new owner would be a basketball player.)

Anyhow, I estimate that I at least tripled the amount of shelf space I was used to having; and I depleted both my bank account and my physical energy in doing so.

So you can imagine my dismay when I discovered that I still didn't have enough shelf space to unpack all my books.

In fact, when packing up my apartment as I prepared to move, the boxes of books substantially outnumbered the boxes of all my other possessions combined. I had to hire an extra mover, just because there were so many boxes of books to carry. I had to rent a bigger moving truck, just because of the books. I had to rent a larger storage unit because of all the books (as per my November column, my move inadvertently involved 5-6 weeks of couch-surfing while one closing date after another fell through). And now, having spent a sultan's ransom on bookcases, I still don't have enough shelf space to unpack all my books.

Enough already! This is the last straw. Obviously, I own too many books.

Yet I am not a hoarder, collector, or pack rat. I have always lived in rather small spaces, and I eschew clutter. I've also moved often over the years; and as they say, three moves is as good as a fire. I've always been good about paring down my possessions, and I mostly stick to household rules such as, "If you haven't used it in two years, get rid of it."

So how the hell did I wind up with far more books than it's practical or convenient for me to own?

Well, if I'm honest, I'm the sort of person who goes to a bookstore whenever I'm bored, or depressed, or lonesome, or angry, or happy, or broke, or in the money, or avoiding my keyboard, or want to reward myself, or have never been to this particular bookstore before, or consider this particular bookstore a favorite, or... You get the picture. And since my will is weak and my ability to justify a book purchase is extremely well developed, there's little chance that I'll leave a bookstore empty-handed once I've entered it.

I love the shiny superstores where you can spend hours browsing. I am also a lifelong supporter of good independent bookstores. But I love best of all those dusty old second-hand stores where book-buying is a treasure hunt through the ages, where you can find an occult manual from the 1970s, a 19th century memoir    

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