Addicted to Books

I think I have two addictions: chocolate and books. The book addiction is definitely stronger. I can live without chocolate. I’m not sure I could live without books.

When do I buy books? When I’ve accomplished something, to reward myself. When I’m sad, to make myself free better. When I’m anxious, again to make myself feel better. When I actually need a particular book. When I think I might need a particular book. When a particularly book sounds interesting. When I need to go on a walk, and it’s raining, so it makes more sense to go to the bookstore than to the park.

Recently, I was waiting for my flight from Budapest to Zurich to Boston. I had two books in my carry-on bag. One would not be enough, because what if I did not want to read that book? So I packed two. Then, in the airport, I went into the bookstore and bought another book, because what if I did not want to read either of those books? The thought made me anxious, so of course I bought a third book, just in case — at the ridiculously inflated airport bookstore price. During the flight, I ended up doing what I always do, which is watch movies — the sillier the better. This is how I have watched The Lost City and John Carter of Mars, on small Swiss Air seatback monitors. But those books did come in handy during the Budapest to Zurich flight, which had no seatback monitors, and while we were taxiing in Zurich and there was no movie to watch, and during the metro ride home from the Boston airport. So I made the right decision. Right?

I recently realized that, as some people have emotional support animals, I have emotional support books.

Even the act of walking through a good bookstore is soothing. So many books! So many stories! So many possibilities — not just to read, but to be for a while, because when I am reading a book, I am being in that book. I am getting to live a different life. Recently, I traveled to the Himalayas with Jamaica Kinkaid and met Miss Jean Brodie in her prime with Muriel Spark. In between, I solved a case with Hercules Poirot, but I’ve done that many times before. (Agatha Christie may be my ultimate emotional support author. Or is that Jane Austen? Or C.S. Lewis?) I have been to islands off the coast of Finland with Tove Janssen. I have gone both back and forward in time. (Maybe it’s Ursula Le Guin?) I have learned about writing, gardening, Zen, art in nineteenth-century Vienna, renovating a villa in Tuscany.

It may seem as though I’m making light of serious addictions by calling this my addiction, but it accomplishes the same thing: buying a book is a sort of “hit.” It makes me feel better, it soothes anxiety, it creates the same sense of pleasure and possibility. Within the covers of each book are dreams in which I can participate, alternate realities, even alternate personas that I can inhabit. Books are safe hallucinations. (Well, sometimes safe. Sometimes not safe at all when those hallucinations cross over into our real world, when we begin to believe in fantasies — I’m thinking here of politics.) Words are powerful, as powerful as drugs.

I don’t have any sort of deep message here, except perhaps one of solidarity with those of you who are also inveterate readers. Who also wander around bookstores in a sort of daze, wishing you could buy so many of the books on the shelves — the way you might wander around an animal shelter, wanting to take home all the puppies. Or around the garden center, planning to buy plants as though you had a hundred acres and a landscaping crew. For whom libraries are sanctuaries and sacred precincts, but who also want your own books, on your own shelves (there are never enough shelves), even if you don’t have enough time to read them, because each book is a different life you can live, a different possibility you can experience. That’s the closest we can get to immortality.

Excuse me, this evening I’m due to depart for Italy with Elena Ferrante, and I must start packing . . .

(The image is The Reading Girl by A.C.W. Duncan.)

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9 Responses to Addicted to Books

  1. Nancy D says:

    Don’t forget your books! 🥰 I read constantly, all types, all genres. I reread, as well. The older I get, the more I read…lovely companionship anywhere I go. Safe travels, Theodora!

  2. Nancy D says:

    Shameless…I wrote a little book called Imagination Prymm of Ipswich, a Year and a Day. You might like it!

  3. Tina Tierson says:

    So happy to know that we share the same addiction and for the same reasons – reading is a balm, an escape, an adventure, and better than antidepressants! I have books I’ve read once, twice, and books I haven’t yet read, all bringing me great pleausre just looking at my bookcases (and book piles!) Today I’m re-reading The Secret Garden because sometimes the world is too difficult.

  4. I have always used this quote from Simon & Garfunkel: “I have my books and my poetry to protect me.” so, yes, I “get it.”

  5. Cherri says:

    I share your love of books and bookstores. Whenever I am low, I head to the bookstore or library to lift me spirits. Nothing works quite as well to make me feel better but a good book.

  6. Kat says:

    Yes, you just described my favorite passion. Sometimes I’ll leave for the bookstore and when questioned I will just say” I’m going to smell the bindings”. Oh that fragrance when first walking in the door. It smells like wonder and adventure and my soul’s home.

  7. Patrick Murphy says:

    It’s wonderful so many people have a similar addiction:-) It didn’t help that I worked in a major university library:-) have tried from their early years to get my grandchildren “hooked” with libraries, and bookstores. When visiting Key West in the Winter I always find so many books for the granddaughters at a place called Books, and Books that I have to have them shipped home. Ebooks from my local library have gotten me through the Pandemic, and been a companion over the years on my travels. Many a year a nice thick Clive Cussler adventure has drawn me in while flying somewhere domestic, or abroad. Your Boston was my favorite city for many years to wander new, and used bookstores for treasures, but I found more bookstores closing, or forced to go only online for economic reasons. Nothing can replace the experience of wandering book aisles. I fear you are a lifelong book addict from your comments, and I predict a rewarding life because of it::-)

  8. Maery Rose says:

    Oh, boy! I can relate! I keep telling myself I have to stop! I won’t live long enough to finish all those books on my shelf, but I also love that they are there waiting for me, full of promise.

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