Alec Nevala-Lee

Thoughts on art, creativity, and the writing life.

Confessions of a Bookavore

with 2 comments

I’m addicted to books. Not so much to reading—although I do a lot of that, too—but to the physical act of buying and owning books themselves. This has been the case for as long as I can remember, but in recent years, I’ve tried to be more selective. The first turning point came in my move to Chicago, when I had to ship most of my belongings across the country. This involved paring down my library to what I saw as its essentials and donating the rest, which included hundreds of books that I had accumulated over seven years of weekly browsing at the Strand. (In the end, I wound up giving away eighteen boxes of books.) Another purge, on a smaller scale, took place before my recent move to Oak Park. And even though I’m settling into my house here for the long term, I’ve been trying to keep my book purchases to a minimum, mostly because I don’t have any shelves at the moment—although I’m hoping to have them installed this week.

It came as a bit of a shock, then, to realize that over the past month, I’ve bought no fewer than twenty-two books, at least as far as I can remember. If there’s anyone to blame, it’s those coupon sites: whenever a daily deal involving books is offered, I have no choice but to take it. This is how I ended up buying a bunch of stuff this month at a discount from Better World Books: A Life and The Arrangement by Elia Kazan, who has been on my mind a lot these days because of the recent revival of Death of a Salesman; Draw! by Kurt Hanks and Larry Belliston; and Thinking With a Pencil by Henning Nelms. This last book is one I’ve been trying to find for a while, having lost my old copy years ago, and it’s led to a sudden fascination with the life of the extraordinary Mr. Nelms, also known as Hake Talbot, a magician, illustrator, stage director, playwright, and not incidentally a master locked-room novelist. It’s inevitable, then that I would pick up a copy of his Magic and Showmanship on Amazon, bringing our count for the month to five.

Things only got worse when I got another daily deal for Open Books, one of the best bookstores in Chicago, which runs largely on donations and uses the proceeds to fund local literacy programs. A month ago, I’d used the first of my two coupons to pick up The Tangled Bank by Stanley Edgar Hyman and Showman by David Thomson, so when my wife and I ended up back in the bookstore’s neighborhood on Saturday, I knew I had to use the other one. After an hour or so of browsing, my wife had found The Food of a Younger Land by Mark Kurlanksy, but I still hadn’t seen anything that met my high standards. (My eye was caught by Adhocism: A Case for Improvisation by Charles Jencks and Nathan Silver, but at $75, it struck me as a bit rich—although I may still go back and get it.) Then, to the sound of a heavenly choir, I saw a pristine copy of Bert Hölldobler and Edward O. Wilson’s The Ants for only $8. With a coupon, I got it for only $5.50—which, considering the fact that the cheapest used copy goes for $70 on Amazon, might be my best book bargain ever.

Of course, that was only the start. My other great weaknesses, as regular readers know, are thrift stores and book sales, and this month had some corkers. At my old favorite, the Brown Elephant, I found Catching the Big Fish by David Lynch and Notes on a Cowardly Lion by John Lahr. From the Economy Shop in Oak Park, I got The Visual Display of Quantitative Information by Edward Tufte and Frank Capra’s The Name Above the Title. And the annual book sale at Oak Park Temple yielded a ton of treasures: my wife got the collected letters of Margaret Mitchell and the best columns of Mike Royko, while I got The Evolution of Man and Society by C.D. Darlington, the two volumes of The Outline of History by H.G. Wells, the first volume of Louis Ginzberg’s Legends of the Jews, and a nice copy of Mimesis by Erich Auerbach, to replace my current edition, which is getting worn out. Combine this with a few miscellaneous purchases (Sophie’s Choice, a double edition of novels by James M. Cain, How Eskimos Keep Their Babies Warm by Mei-Ling Hopgood), and it’s clear that these bookshelves need to come soon.

Written by nevalalee

April 3, 2012 at 10:17 am

2 Responses

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  1. Some people get distracted by shiny things, I get distracted by browsing and buying books. I want to read them all, but can’t since there is only so much time in a given day. And I get bummed out by that sometimes. I already have 4-5 books I began reading and I’m going back and forth on. I try to NOT go into a bookstore until I’m ready to take on more books to read. After reading your blog, I don’t feel alone.

    NicolesArtsResource

    April 5, 2012 at 5:07 pm

  2. Same here. At this point, it isn’t even the money I spend on books that’s the issue—it’s not having enough time or space!

    nevalalee

    April 5, 2012 at 11:18 pm


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