I HAVE an obsession. Not in a young, hunky, perfume ad supermodel sense (sadly,) but it's something I have to have, usually three or four at any given time. I credit my parents for feeding this habit and various teachers for making me curious. No matter where I've lived, I've sought these out, and they've drawn me in to them. Books, beautiful books.
I learned to read at an early age, and, as I write this, next to my bed are three mysteries, three cookbooks, two books of James Beard essays, one business book, one compilation of M.F.K. Fisher works, one book on Bellaire and a partridge in a pear tree (kidding about the partridge-I'm terrified of birds.) Though most of my collection is in a storage unit in Oregon, I've managed to accumulate a continuation of that collection here in Ohio.
One of the earliest books I remember is a paperback of bedtime stories, a copy of which is in my Oregon collection. My parents started us on Golden Books, Dr. Seuss and "Go Dog Go." A great aunt gave me a Bobbsey Twins book. I still have "The Secret Garden" that I had to purchase from the library with my allowance when our puppy tore some of the pages while chewing on it. I had most of the Nancy Drew series, and fluffy mysteries are still my preferred bedtime reading.
What is the attraction? Is it my interests in architecture, travel, food, photography, art, crime and personalities that send me to travel vicariously through pages about other people and cultures? Or do volumes of glossy photos and vivid paragraphs create those interests, like crumbs doled out to keep me hungry?
All I know is that when I stopped in front of Wheeling's Paradox Books last week, a seasonal cookbook caught my eye before I got in the door. The latest best sellers aren't there. Established in 1974 and at Center Market since 1978, this is a treasure hunt bookstore, where you dig through wall-to-wall used tomes, carefully reading titles and authors on the spines, moving a few out of the way to read the ones behind, kneeling on the floor to see what's on the bottom shelves and poking through boxes for undiscovered gems. Of course, I came away with a few trinkets.
One Friday, I truly only went to St. Clairsville Library to return something. Then I saw the book sale sign-moth to a flame. I'm now listening to the book on tape I picked up for my cousin-Stephen King reading his "On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft." His graphic tale of how he became a writer offers advice, tips and anecdotes with some humor and little nonsense. A key point of his is that one can't be a writer without being a reader. He says that if he's not writing, there is a good chance that he's reading, about 75 books a year. No surprise to me.
A dear friend of mine in Rochester is a writer and book collector, and today, Feb. 12, happens to be his birthday anniversary. Rich, too, has always read, preferring poetry and fiction and collecting 20th century poetry and fiction first editions. At one point, he had about 2,000, but says he's scaled back to 750. One of his college professors stoked his book obsession fire, and as Rich discovered new authors he burned through their repertoires, enjoying "the acquisition and hunt for the book."
He also mentions that he likes the feel of a book in his hands. A friend recently gave him a Nook to explore, and he's found that after sitting in front of a screen working all day, the last thing he wants is to stare at another, smaller one.
I have to say I feel the same. I spend hours at my laptop researching, communicating and writing, many nights ending at 2 or 3 a.m. I couldn't bear to boot up another screen full of words. My mind winds down zoning through rich photos of Spanish villages. My wrists and shoulders relax, letting Hamish Macbeth solve the "Death of a Poison Pen." My obsession, with its dark notes of dusty cloth and just a hint of must, is ... intoxicating.
Valenti can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.