Thursday, November 11, 2010

book lust

"i spend lots of winter days with books. i cant resist them. writers are writers because they love to read. if i read two or three books every week i couldnt live long enough to read thru all the books i own. but that doesnt keep me from buying more." --poet Ted Kooser from Local Wonders

the only schooling i have had since high school was four years of undergrad at a small liberal arts college in the middle of iowa where i became and english major with unofficial (or unfinished) concentrations in theatre and environmental studies. which means the highest degree i hold is a BA in english literature.
now, english majors become english majors because they love to read. it was a toss up for me my first year at grinnell when i looked thru the course catalog between english and biology, but when i noticed that all the bio classes were on the micro level (instead of a macro, environmental scale) and every english class had stuff i couldnt wait to dig into, i knew. ('i knew it like you know about a good melon...') so i spent my four years of college reading books. books that i would have picked up during vacations even if they hadnt been assigned. books that were all chock full of stories, not theories; fiction, not fact; books that would take me imaginative places, not wherever you go when you use critical thinking skills, like we were supposed to be taught at this school where they teach you to think (the new buzzword is 'inquiry-based' learning).
but yeah, i just read books. stories. i mean, some of them were hundreds of years old, and therefore i guess i got a little culture, and my hard-on for 'willy the shake' grew to epic proportions, so now i can be called a true snob. but really, i just read books. which is what i did my entire childhood and formative years too. bury your nose in a good dickens or bronte or faulkner even, and you can stop thinking about anything relevant to your life or your future. which is definitely what i was looking for in college. people would ask me what i was going to do with the degree and without fail they ended the question with 'so are you gonna teach?' which was never my plan. ever. i was gonna read and that was it. and maybe i could figure out how to get paid to write someday. that was as far as id thought. you see, i had a stick-fingers-in-your-ears-and-sing-loudly sort of approach to my life after graduation. i was happy to just sit and read until they wouldnt let me anymore. but then they made me graduate.
and what, pray tell, (you ask) are you now qualified for in the work force? well, let me tell you. without any training in education, let alone a teaching certificate, about all a BA in english is good for is becoming a bookseller. which is what i did. the summer after graduation i started as a sales assistant at a local bookshop and from there (with the small hiccup of moving to china for a school year and trying my hand at teaching, which i now have proof im not any good at) i moved from bookseller to book buyer (which is just the guy that stocks the store). so when i moved to seattle, the first place i walked into with my resume was a bookstore. and i was a pretty good employee cuz i was more than happy to learn everything i could about the stock.
cuz guess what is so awesome about being a bookseller? you have almost unlimited access to books! its amazing! its easier than the library. and your boss encourages you to take that new novel by your favorite author home for the weekend to read so that you can write a little shelf-talker review card and recommend it to your customers. cuz the other awesome thing about being a bookseller is practically every one of your customers is a person who loves to read too! its so great! i kind of hate capitalism and retail on principle and i had qualms about being the kind of person (in my job) that tried to get people to spend money, but if there is anything on this planet i could endorse spending money on, its books (the only other thing is travel, but thats not really a thing, its an experience). really, i would be better off as a librarian but you have to go to school for a while to be one of those. really, you have to be incredibly educated to work in a library. (which is awesome, if the government of your state can pay you what you deserve to work there, but that doesnt seem to be the case anymore. thanks, W, you non-book-reading buffoon. who on earth believed you could write one? sheesh). libraries were my bread and butter back when i was young. i have never owned as many books as ted kooser, even after years and years of working at bookstores. i only own the ones i know i need to re-read often enough that having them saves me a bit of hassle. cuz libraries are great. the smell and the quiet and the durable bindings and the shelves upon shelves...the fact that once you find an author you like you can usually just have at their entire oeuvre. i did that as a child with so many authors, memorizing the spot on the shelf where dr. seuss, john bellairs, hugh lofting, louisa may alcott and many others resided. and going back time after time, till i had exhausted the supply. i can still see those shelves in my local library where i grew up. i spent hours upon hours there in the summers as a kid, partially because our house didnt have air conditioning and the library did. on the really hot days in july and august my mom and brothers and i would ride our bikes to the library and spend the heat of the day immersed in faraway places and the incredibly hard task of choosing which ones we could bring home with us. my mom was a smart cookie. she knew we would develop a pavlovian response to the library as a comfortable place which i still to this day respond to. every new town i go to i first want to find the library and spend a day in there to get the feel of it on my skin. and my comfort level around books has obviously helped decide my half-hearted attempt at a career in my post college years.
cuz bookstores are just like really new libraries, with a fee to take out the book instead of for returning it late. i still to this day think there is something really luxurious and decadent about being around all the brand new books in a bookstore. the lush colors, the new bindings, the soft, unbent covers, its a sensual pleasure i never became immune to. maybe its because i had gotten so used to stiff library bindings and the cellophane jacket covers and forgot for a time how gorgeous books can be. there is a trend in the book making industry right now to make a paperback book so smooth and silky and pliable in the hands that it kinda makes me hot. im not quite joking. and the shelves upon shelves of stories at ones fingertips is such an amazing promise of one adventure after another (whether its from plot, thought, relationship or description, its all an adventure to me). someday, when i have a house, i will have a library. or at least a study/office lined with bookshelves so i can have that feeling of a thousand other worlds surrounding me, just waiting for me to dive into them. any time im in a room with bookshelves (which is only ever in other peoples houses these days) i my eye is drawn to them to see what kind of characters have populated my hosts brain. and what possibilities there might be to occupy my mind while im staying there, of course. cuz as a reader and a writer, i find getting inside a new characters head to be really one of the most pleasurable things i can think of. yum. maybe thats why i have a hard time actually finishing the stories i write, cuz i dont want my characters to leave me. there is always more to explore there, i just know it.


PKJ said...

Have you read Tam Lin by Pamela Dean? You must get your hands on it this instant b/c it is about how wonderful it is to be an English major in a small Midwestern Liberal Arts college.
My amazing Prof Gordon Thompson at Earlham once said in class, "You're all here because at some point books moved you. And now you want to understand how you were moved."

James said...

Usually we're on the same page about things, but wow. No clue what you're talking about here.