Confessions of a book hoarder

By MIMI BECKER

Contributing writer

Recently, I needed a particular book for some research.  I was sure I still had a copy of the book.  I searched all through the house. I have books in the usual places; bookshelves, bedside table, the office. The book was nowhere to be found.

While rummaging through the shelves and piles, I relived memories of books we read to our children and  books the children read through their school years. There are books I have read, will surely not read again, but can’t let go.  

There are still books to read. Quite a few of them, actually. When we travel, I look for a bookstore, hopefully one which exudes the character of the place. While on a trip to Paris, our guide was put on alert that I absolutely must have the bookstore experience. The tour was drawing to a close and I still didn’t have my bookstore.

On the last day, the guide was giving us instructions for our last bit of free time. Looking straight at me, he gave directions to a bookstore right across the river from Notre Dame. It doesn’t get any better than that.

The name of the bookstore is Shakespeare and Company. That tickled me, of course. For the chronic bookstore shopper, it didn’t disappoint; small, cramped, packed, wooden floors, nooks and crannies of books, knowledgeable and helpful clerks, readers clearly from many places.

So, was my book mecca a tourist trap? Maybe, but it satisfied my requirements and I made my purchases. For the record, the recommended selections have been thoroughly enjoyable and informative.

I’m not just a book purchaser. I am also a great fan of the public library. I can’t go in the place without being lured to the very cleverly arranged displays of the topic of the month or wander to the stacks to see if some of my favorite authors may have a new work out. Never mind that there is a handy, quick search computer right in the lobby which will give me an immediate answer. That spoils the fun of strolling down the rows and rows of books.

Through the years, when I want a good read which doesn’t tax my brain but tells a good story, I have discovered authors which become favorites and I binge read. I decided this practice may not be healthy, so I devised a little system to cure the condition.  

This program was entirely related to fiction. I required myself to start at “A.” I must choose a book by an author whose last name began with “A” and who was completely new to me. As a reward, I could also choose a book by one of my comfort zone writers.

Once though those two books, I had to move on to “B.” In other words, my new “A” friend could not become my new obsession. This plan was faithfully followed through a summer when I was out of school and the children were mostly gone from the house.  

By the time fall arrived and reading time was returned to more academic topics, I was down to “L.” Do I remember all of the books I read? No, but, it was fun.

Back to the unread books at home. Why are they unread, especially when they are by some of my favorite authors and/or from my travel shopping?

Because I am a book hoarder.

It’s like having a “go to” recipe. You are invited to a friend’s house for a casual cookout and you’re asked to bring a little something. What is the dish you know will go with most any menu? It probably requires mostly simple ingredients on hand, but there is always that one item which isn’t always in the fridge or cabinet. It may be used only for that recipe and may not be widely available on the spur of the moment and at any grocery.

Over time, the dish even becomes the one your friends or family request. Maintaining the supply of the special ingredient becomes more of a challenge. So, what do you do? You go on the internet, find it in bulk and buy a case. It’s shelf stable and will keep for a reasonable period of time once opened. Now, you can whip up the dish pretty much on demand. What you need is in the cabinet just waiting for you.

So, I’m a book hoarder.

It is impossible to predict when there will be a snowstorm of the magnitude which limits access to the public library.  I could be injured and unable to drive or walk to the Library.  I need my bulk supply ready and waiting.

 I could read books on one of those electronic devices. I have two of them. One is a deluxe version.  I don’t remember my passwords and I am apparently not so enamored of the convenience of the vast opportunities available that I will take the time to reset the passwords. But, I suppose, if stranded on a deserted island with electricity and internet access, I could be prepared and I suppose the substitute for real books would satisfy me. 

I travel with books. They don’t really take up much space, or weight, especially if you are willing to haul them in your carry on. It’s a matter of priorities. You can always stuff a couple in the trunk of the car in those odd shaped spaces which are created by the wheel well.

I need a reliable and comforting supply of books available and they are shelf stable. Once opened they will hold for a reasonable period of time.

Just a note about the Paris bookstore: On an impulse grab at the library last week, I checked out a book about an English woman in the 1920s. The book will not be memorable except for one small incident.  The woman travelled to Paris. Being a sheltered woman of the time, she wanted to partake of all that Paris had to offer. Let your mind wander, but I will tell you she went to Shakespeare and Company bookstore …

 I do love the internet.  A simple search gave me a bit of history. While not at the same location, or under the same ownership, or exactly the same name, there has been a Shakespeare and Company Bookstore in Paris almost continuously since 1916.  And, it was founded by a woman. It’s connection to the culture of Paris, especially during the pre-war years, was fascinating. It may be a tourist destination, but it deserves every bit of the reputation and a visit by a modern book lover tourist.