I’m an English major. And two years ago, I adopted a kitten and named him after Michigan’s interlibrary loan system (yes, really).
So I like books.
And right now, I’m reading a book that my friend Lucy recommended: Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader by Anne Fadiman.
It’s a collection of personal essays about books. Which has me thinking about my own relationship to books.
What would most surprise people, I think, is that I don’t care much about owning books. And when it comes to the books that I do own, I couldn’t care less about how they’re organized on my shelves.
Which is, I’ve learned, something that a lot of readers are obsessed with. Fadiman devoted an entire essay to that topic, actually: debating with herself over whether she should organize her books alphabetically or by time period. Reading it, I was just like, “Really?”
Now, I do happen to own quite a few books. I’m not really sure where they came from, though. Maybe it’s that I grew up attending writing seminars and conferences, and going to readings that gave me the opportunity to buy signed copies of poetry collections afterward (seriously, I started getting my literary conference on at the tender age of 16). But, as I mentioned above, I named my cat after a library, so it should come as no surprise to you that I’ve never felt inclined to spend all of my money on books.
But I am not particularly attached to the ones that I do own. Ask anyone who’s ever borrowed one from me. Usually, when they try to give it back to me, I tell them to just pass it on to someone else who they think will like to read it. Because, as an a vocal advocate for libraries, I don’t like the idea of books sitting unread on a shelf forever– especially if it’s one I’ve particularly enjoyed reading.
I will occasionally buy a book under the following conditions:
1) If it’s something I really really want as part of my collection. Like that new book about Banksy that was recently released. I was all about getting my hands on a first edition copy of it, because, as a book about street art, is got this really kick ass visual quality that I love. Ditto Rookie Yearbook One— seriously, look at it. I’ve already pre-ordered a copy of Rookie Yearbook Two, which will be released in October. But I digress.
2) If I find the book at an independent bookstore (which, in the case of the Banksy book, I did– at Snowbound in Marquette, MI).
3) Or, if I happen to stumble upon something cool at a thrift store or garage sale. That’s pretty much the only time I’ll buy a book spontaneously. Usually it’s a pretty well thought out process, as documented above.
This kind of contradicts what I said above about how I don’t care about owning books & have a tendency to give mine away. Whatever. I’m contradictory and have a lot of weird habits. All book lovers (all people, for that matter) do.
And yet, this all makes sense in my head. I buy a book because it’s super rad. Which just makes me want to share it with others.
On the subject of e-readers (which is something Fadiman didn’t address at all in her book, because it was published in 1998): I own a Kindle, and love it. It saves my butt when I happen not to have any books at my disposal. For example, when I ran off to Washington for 5 weeks earlier this summer. I obviously didn’t change my address, so couldn’t use the library there. And I brought a few books with me, but I tore through those more quickly than I thought I would. And so, Kindle to the rescue. It was super handy, not to mention much more lightweight than all the books stored on it would really be.
I don’t use my Kindle all the time, because I don’t like the idea of paying $10+ for a book that I can’t even tangibly hold in my hand. But I’m a big fan of their “daily deals,” which is like going to an electronic garage sale. And anything published prior to 1923 is free.
And my Kindle lets me highlight and take notes, just as I would with an actual book.
Which brings me to the topic of writing in books.
The only bummer about libraries is that I can’t deface my library books, and instead have to use Post-Its. I love writing in the books I own; it makes me feel more normal about my habit of talking to myself, or something. Like, I know that the books can’t talk back, but I usually have a lot to say to them, so I write in the margins. And people think I’m smart for doing that. But when I talk to myself, they’re like, “Amelia, that’s weird.”
I recently bought a used copy of Henry and June by Anais Nin specifically because I’m familiar enough with her writing to know that I can’t get through a paragraph of hers without highlighting something. She is that good.
Similarly, I love reading books that belong (or once belonged) to smart people. Because I love to see what struck them as important or profound or ridiculous.
As for what I like to read: Everything. Seriously, everything. Poetry, YA, depressing-as-shit feminist nonfiction that fills me with rage, novels, short stories, etc. I am all over the place. I usually read more than one book at a time, and those books span many different genres.
My reading habits kind of resemble my disorganized shelves, now that I think about it.
So see? It all makes sense.