Monday, October 20, 2008


by Michael Dymmoch

Many mental disorders can be traced to a traumatic event in the sufferer’s past. Agoraphobia to a frightening or embarrassing experience. PTSD to an actual attack or close call. Ailurophobia to an unfortunate experience with a cat or conditioning by a phobic parent. I’m not sure the phobia I suffer from has a name, but I can trace it to the day I found Northbrook Public Library discarding books that didn’t circulate regularly. Old books I’d discovered while browsing were disappearing from the shelves, frequently books that were out of print and unavailable through book stores. When the library tried to toss its only copy of James Baldwin’s Another Country, I was overcome by the fear of forever losing favorite tomes.

This was before the internet; I was still a teen. So I started checking out great stuff—like The Disappearance by Philip Wyle or Sword At Sunset by Rosemary Sutcliff (the original 1963 novel, not the 2008 paperback rip-off allegedly coauthored by Jack Whyte)—just so they wouldn’t be on the hit list. And I started collecting my own copies of books I might want to read again.

Damage to those early acquisitions—by sun and damp and frequent moves—has made me overly cautious with later purchases. New books get onto my shelves only after they’ve been cataloged and armored in archival plastic. Then they’re shelved by subject or author—alphabetically, so I can find them when I need to. Some books are duplicated, so I can loan out favorites without anxiety.

The remedy (A remedy--there is no cure.) for this particular malady is obviously used book dealers and Amazon. com—mere palliatives, each with its own unfortunate side effects. Both sources are highly addictive. Like any good pushers, book sales persons will eagerly find your book. And half a dozen other titles that might interest you. Amazon. com is like C.S. Lewis’s gradual road to hell—“the gentle slope, soft underfoot...”—with their free shipping offers and “Readers who liked (your title here) also liked...” And unlike street-drug vendors, book stores and Amazon take plastic.

Used book stores and websites can also lead to fugue states. Great pieces of one’s life are forever lost to mindless browsing. And huge portions of one’s living space are eaten up by bookshelves filled with titles you never imagined existed. (Thirteen other bookshelves not shown.)

But as addictions go, this one isn’t bad. There’s no stigma among people whose opinions you might value. And as with alcohol, the really good stuff rarely leaves you hung-over.


Barbara D'Amato said...

It should be called Good Person's Mania.

edired said...

Ah , there is a great drug available on the open market . Friends of the library book sales . . . . I sort for one and work three others . All the library discards in town pass through my hands ( the cost of first choice would be an issue if this wasn't poverty central ) And the donations . . . . . every thing from seriously dated science to the newest best seller . Join your local group - meet people who love books as much as you do . . .and help build a library big enough that bthey can keep all the books .