Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Truly Book Obsessed

In the past year or so, I've come to the realization that, although I thought my life was full of friends who are as obsessed with books (and, well, you know reading them) as I am, it really isn't. With the exception of all those of you who read my blog and write about books yourselves (and who seemed to understand that book slut post of mine so well), it seems I have very few friends who share this obsession of mine to the same degree that I have it. They may be somewhat obsessed or have an obsession that somewhat resembles a book obsession but that really isn't. Probably less than a handful or so of my non-blogging friends have even half the book obsession I have. Let's take a look at some of the categories of people who have fooled me into thinking they are as book obsessed as I am but who really can't hold a candle to me:

1. The reading obsessed. Really, there is a difference, so please hear me out. I'm becoming suspicious of my beloved husband as far as this category goes. Yes, it does seem that he would rather spend money on books than just about anything else (only CDs and pens can compete, which is why he and I are so compatible), but he is perfectly content if he finds himself with several days in a row in which he doesn't pick up a single book. As long as he can read through the local papers and can entertain himself with the likes of The New Yorker and Sports Illustrated, my guess is he could go a week or more without ever cracking the spine of a book. Those who fall into the reading obsessed category do have to read and would go nuts without any reading material, but they are not book obsessed. Me? I'd be fine if all newspapers, magazines, and (maybe, even, God forbid) blogs and Facebook suddenly disappeared. Don't take my books away, though. I might last a day or two before winding up in the hospital, gasping for breath, my heart at the rate of all of two beats per minute.

2. Those who don't read specific genres. "I don't read mysteries," someone will say to me when I am rhapsodizing about how much I like John Connolly. Nothing like putting a damper on conversation, huh? You know, I am game for any good book, and I don't care at all about the genre. In fact, damn the genre. If you ask me what sorts of books I enjoy, I wouldn't be likely to say, "romances," and yet I've certainly read quite a few in my lifetime and have come, over the past few years, to really enjoy someone like Georgette Heyer. I will say that I don't think I've ever read any westerns, but if someone were to come along, waxing poetic about some western she'd read, I'd take note and seek it out next time I was at the library.

3. Those who don't read contemporary fiction. Like those who don't read specific genres, they can fool you. It isn't as though they can't talk books with someone who is book obsessed. However, again, if they put such limits on which books they will and won't read, well, then, they are mere pikers when it comes to obsession. Beware someone who disparages anything written post-1940 who will challenge you to name those authors you think will be on college reading lists in 2110 (a fun game I like to play, but a ridiculous challenge when taken seriously, no? I bet nobody predicted Charlotte Bronte would last. And, what, in 100 years, no one's going to study late 20th and 21st-century works?). Sometimes, these people prove themselves to be a little more book-obsessed than they let on, and you just might catch them reading The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo ("Yes, but that doesn't count. It isn't literature") or Freedom ("Well, I had to see what all the fuss was about, didn't I?). Be polite, even though they have, for years, been mocking the fact that you read and love John Irving. Some just aren't quite willing to admit to and embrace their obsessions the way those of us with high self-esteem can.

4. Those who don't read nonfiction. I may argue vociferously with most of the nonfiction I read, but how can someone who is book-obsessed not read it, at least on occasion? Let's say all you read is fiction. That's fine. Maybe you're fiction obsessed, but you certainly aren't book obsessed. You see, the truly book obsessed can't read something like The Postmistress, which I just finished reading, and not find herself adding titles to her TBR list that the author lists as sources she used for research before writing the book. I became extremely interested in American radio reporting during WWII while reading this book. I don't know how anyone reads fiction about some, until then, unexplored, but fascinating, subject, without finding a desire to read a nonfiction title or two. If nothing else, doesn't fiction lead to wanting to read biographies and autobiographies of the authors who write it?

5. Those who don't buy books or have any in their homes. I'm sorry. You may be someone who reads 5 books a week, but if you never buy or own any, you are not book obsessed. Reading obsessed, yes, but not book obsessed. I don't even care if you tell me you can't afford to buy books. Those who are truly book obsessed can remember days when, even though barely squeaking by on a library assistant's salary, living in one of the most expensive places in the country to live, they decided to buy fewer groceries the week of the used book sale in order to be able to get lots of cheap books instead.

6. Those who don't have a favorite publisher. Really. Even before I worked in the publishing industry, I knew that Penguin and Algonquin were two of my favorite publishers. I also knew that I loved Knopf. Yes, I am mostly author-driven and will happily follow an author from publisher to publisher, however, if I'm looking to discover new authors I've never read? Well, I certainly know which catalogs/web sites I'm going to browse first.

7. Those who can walk into Borders with money to spend, planning to buy, and walk out empty handed. What? How the hell can you do that? I can't imagine finding nothing to read out of thousands and thousands of books. I can go into a house with one small bookcase of books, and, as long as it holds a variety of titles (I mean, I might not be able to find something on a bookcase full of engineering manuals), I can find at least ten books to read. Someone who can find nothing to buy at Borders is not book obsessed.

So, there we have it. My 7 categories of "You can't fool me. I know you aren't really book obsessed." Are there any others? Help me out, all you other book obsessives out there.


Stefanie said...

Oh this was wonderful! I think you need to add a category for carrying a book around wherever you go and the dilemma one experiences when going on vacation. what books do I bring on the plane and what do I pack in the suitcase? Are ten books too many? Then of course there is the browsing of musty used bookstores while on vacation while others are playing in the surf and basking in the sun. Or even planning a vacation around book shopping.

Emily Barton said...

Stef, you are so right. I will practically leave the house without my driver's license before I leave it without a book in my bag, and that whole books on vacation thing. How could I have forgotten that? Thanks for reminding me.

christina said...

LOL I love this post. I read from my book (any book) daily. Even if I am desperately tired and only manage two pages. I also turned one of our extra bedrooms into a library to be.

I only wish that I found others in real life who love to read as much as I do.

Thomas Hogglestock said...

I think one can stay close to one's reading comfort zone and still be book obsessed. The key is that one be open to different kinds of reading. For instance, since I am prone to talking in hyperbole and absolutes, I might stay something like "I don't read mysteries, or fantasy, or ..." But with a trusted recommendation I will do so and sometimes be pleasantly surprised, although I probably still won't seek out other books from that genre unless I get another good recommendation. When it comes to non-fiction I am interested in much of it, will buy it, love to have it as reference material to dip in and out of, but have a hard time wanting to take the time to finish a whole non-fiction book. Maybe it is in response to 8 years of advanced education where I was largely confined to non-fiction.

What about the book obsessed who never read them? I.e., some book collectors?

Emily Barton said...

Christina, you've found us. We're all here.

Thomas, how could I (who is also prone to speaking in hyperbole and absolutes) not have made exceptions for those who do so? Shame on me! However, have no fear, you are most definitely a book obsessive (and not a Collyer brother type "collector." That's something else altogether).

litlove said...

This is hilarious and so true. I do ALL of these things, as well as plan my vacations around my reading. May I join the inner circle? :-)

Emily Barton said...

Litlove, you needn't have asked. You are most definitely already there.

ZoesMom said...

I would only add Those who don't have at least one book by their bedside. Preferably there should be a stack by the bed.

Carrie#K said...

Alas, I'm a piker. I have no idea who the publisher of most/any of my books are. In fact, the last time I even thought of the publisher was to voice my annoyance that they keep changing the dimensions of books and it's making my shelving a PITA.

There is another category. I have "emergency" books in my car (I live in CA, what if there's an earthquake and I'm stranded?). Of course, the other day, I finished a book and fished into my emergency stash only to find it consisted of A Clockwork Orange. A book I'm only going to finish is I'm stranded IN my car, with nothing else to read.