“Hello, My Name Is Lacey and I’m a Book Addict” by Lacey N. Dunham

This is the latest in Lacey N. Dunham’s Bookseller I’d Like to F***. To go to the column page, please click here.

The worst problem about working in a bookstore—the problem that ranks far and above the low pay, standing on one’s feet all day, and dealing with the general public—are the books. Being a bookseller and a bibliophile is a lot like being a chef and a gourmand: you just can’t help indulging in the merchandise.

Nearly 1,000 books crowd my 500 square foot apartment, a number that accumulated from the mere five books I towed with me when I moved to Washington, DC six years ago. I have another three or four hundred books tucked away in neat stacks of cardboard boxes in the basement of my parents’ house. How many of these books have I read cover to cover? A high estimate is twenty-five percent.

Why own all these books if I haven’t even read most of them?

From time to time (usually, whenever I move to a new apartment) I ask myself this same question. Books are heavy. They collect inordinate amounts of dust, to which I am allergic. And in a city where I’ve had to lease both of my kidneys for my apartment, my books are like my cats: they require a surprisingly large amount of space without contributing to rent.

The Oxford American Dictionary defines bibliophile as “a person who collects or is fond of books” and bibliomania as “an extreme enthusiasm for collecting and possessing books.” The QBP Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins adds that a bibliomaniac is “one who loves books to the point of madness” and mentions an apocryphal tale about a Spanish scholar who murdered five collectors to steal a rare book, adding that someone who steals books is a biblioklept (without adding whether or not the Spanish scholar had committed bibliocide).

I was a biblioklept once. When I was seven, my friend Jackie Herdan held a sleepover birthday party and I was so smitten with a tiny, knitted book given to Jackie by her grandmother that I slipped into the playroom while everyone was eating cake and stole the miniature book from the library of Barbie’s Playhouse. At home, when the book wasn’t tucked into its hiding spot in an old shoebox (someone who hides books under lock and key is a bibliotaph), I would hold it in my palm and rub my thumb over the bright red yarn on its cover. I should have felt guilty about taking the book, especially considering it was the only one Barbie owned, but the treasure was too precious for me, a depository for all the words in my head that I couldn’t yet write fluidly.

As an undergraduate, I would remove books from the university library without first checking them out. I held a work-study job in the library, so I would simply demagnetize the theft prevention strip tucked into the pages of each book and slip it into my backpack. Since I always returned the books later, I’m not sure if my unorthodox library borrowings constitute a continuation of my early biblioklept tendencies. I also don’t know why I didn’t use the computer to extend the return date of each book I wanted (return date manipulation being one of the early opportunistic skills I had learned), except that there’s something thrilling about reading an illicitly acquired copy of Reinaldo Arenas’s Before Night Falls.  

* * *

I’ve given lots of thought to that rhetorical question: “If your house was on fire and you knew everyone would escape alive, what one object would you save?” I always bend the question to encompass two objects: the flash drive that has everything I’ve written on it and a book. Choosing which book, however, is difficult. Would I save my first American printing of a collection of Oscar Wilde stories? The cover is faded and nicked on the bottom, so its value is more sentimental than monetary, but I love that sturdy purple hardcover given to me as a gift by a high school English teacher who encouraged my writing. Maybe I would save Frank O’Hara’s In Memory of My Feelings, an illustrated edition of selected poems published by the Museum of Modern Art and with a gorgeous vellum jacket? Or my first edition, first printing copy of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall? Or the bound manuscript of Barbara Kingsolver’s The Lacuna with the file name, date and time it was printed by an unpaid intern in the bottom corner? Or my dogged-eared, marginalia-filled paperback copy of Joyce’s Dubliners? Considering that my third strongest fear is of dying in a house fire, the fact that I even think about saving anything but myself—and saving an extremely flammable object no less—says a lot about my bibliomania.

In my household, my partner has forbidden me to do laundry. I approach the task of laundry methodically—whites, reds and colors are separate, and work clothes (permanent press) are segregated from non-work clothes (towels, running shorts, undergarments and bed sheets)—whereas she tends to throw everything together and hope for the best. However, because our apartment building’s community bookshelf is next to the laundry room door, I can’t be trusted to return from the machines empty handed. Perusing the community bookshelf is how I acquired my copy of Tom McCarthy’s Remainder, Michael Frayn’s play CopenhagenThe Diary of Anais Nin, and the poems of Jorie Graham. When I was still allowed to do the laundry, I walked away thinking: don’t these people know what treasures they’re giving away?

When my friend Tonya was in DC this past March for a conference, my partner used her visit as an opportunity to goad me into cleaning out our bookshelves, with the idea that giving the books to a friend, instead of abandoning them to the harsh wilds of the community bookshelf, would make the parting easier. I’m proud to say I gave Tonya nearly 80 books, an eclectic mix of fiction and non-fiction I’d either purchased or that were advanced reader’s copies from work. I’d read some of the books but I knew there were others I’d never get to despite my best intentions, though knowing that didn’t make the parting any easier. Together, my partner and I filled an extra large suitcase and wheeled the books to the Metro. Halfway there, both suitcase wheels broke off from the weight, so I had to drag the suitcase over the sidewalk and along the train platform. Tonya’s an avid reader and when I heaved the suitcase full of books into her hotel room, she clapped her hands with excitement. When leaving her, I had to restrain myself from saying, “Take good care of them, love them, and treat them well.”

The terrible irony, of course, is that I still continue to accumulate books. My recently scoured bookshelves are sagging again under the weight of galleys, publisher freebies, books I purchase from work at cost and the five or so books I check out monthly from the library.

I decided I would gauge how many books I acquire in a month by stacking them in a pile on the dining room table. When the pile collapsed onto my breakfast one morning, I realized my bibliomania is probably an addiction, albeit, one that I can afford because I work in the very place that exists to serve addicts like myself. This is only fitting, I suppose, because I often joke with customers who lament that they came to the bookstore “to buy one book” and walk out with eight or nine that, as far as habits go, at least book buying is a relatively healthy one.

More of Lacey N. Dunham’s Bookseller I’d Like to F*** at Used Furniture.

Advertisements

Comments

  1. The worst thing I ever did was buy bags of books for a dollar at the end of an auction. Those books never got read – there were just too many to enjoy. But, I know that I can’t enter a bookstore unless I have money to spend.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: