I'm not much of a shopper. I have no patience for looking through stuff in stores, comparing things, trying on clothes, spending money on jewelry or other similar items. Most of my wardrobe is actually quite old. When I am forced to by clothes, I try to get things that will last. For example, I have a couple of sweatshirts from the American Chemical Society. I left that job in 1997, but those shirts are still going strong. My kind of clothing. But there is one type of store that can make me quite lose my mind and spend time and money as if both were endless: the bookstore.
Pam's birthday was this week and in celebration she wanted to have lunch, go see a matinee of Twilight: New Moon, and then finish off the afternoon with a visit to Cold Stone Creamery. Sounds good. As Laura drove us to lunch I realized we were going to be quite near a Barnes & Noble. I also knew that we were going to get to the theater early to make sure we could get decent seats. My addiction started nagging at me. There's a bookstore nearby and I'm going to need to kill time. I need a book. But alas there really wasn't time to go to the bookstore before the movie. Imagine my surprise when it turned out that Cold Stone Creamery was in the same shopping center as the bookstore. I told my companions that there was no way I could be this close and not go in. Yes, my addiction was speaking loud and clear.
So we took our ice cream and sat in the cafe at the bookstore, where we were serenaded by middle school kids singing Christmas carols. Laura, Pam, and Sandy savored their ice cream. I guess I pretty much inhaled mine. I couldn't waste time eating while in the presence of the siren song of so many books. I asked if they minded if I browsed while they finished eating, knowing they couldn't possibly deny me that.
I read dust jackets, ran my hands over covers, wandered around looking at titles and illustrations. I saw books that are dear old friends, like Paolo Coehlo's The Alchemist, Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, which in DVD format sustained me across the country from Sturgis, SD, to Elizabeth City, NC, after the 2005 sheepdog finals, and many others, some of which I'd forgotten about but whose covers brought back memories of lovely reads. And of course I saw books that I wanted to read. Yes, I am an addict, and I have a hard time controlling myself in a bookstore. Today was no exception. I bought books. I have no business spending money on frivolous things right now, but there it is; when it comes to books I can't help myself.
After paying, I went back to find the girls still sitting in the cafe chatting. Their first comment on seeing the bag: "That looks like more than one book." Well, yeah, how do you buy just one? I could have bought many more. "What did you buy?" And Laura's priceless comment: "I hope you bought fluff--lots of fluff." Quite the opposite, I'm afraid. So I pulled out The Music Room, by William Fiennes. It's his memoir of growing up in a castle with an older brother who suffered from severe epilepsy; I don't know what drew me to the book, but it was the first one I picked from a shelf that I knew I had to have. Then I found The Art of Racing in the Rain, by Garth Stein. Bobbi Washer had recommended this book to me when I saw her at Jan Thompson's trial. I also picked up The Time Traveler's Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger and South of Broad, by Pat Conroy. Someone asked about Pat Conroy, and I noted that even if they hadn't read his books, they might have seen the movies: The Great Santini, The Lords of Discipline, The Prince of Tides, or The Water is Wide.
At the end of this brief discussion, Laura remarked: "Oh no, why did you get that book? His stuff is a recipe for Prozac!" Which comment actually caused all of us to laugh (I hope the children singing didn't think we were laughing at them!). Why did I get Pat Conroy, knowing that his books are generally sad? Because I love his writing. I love his descriptions of the south and southerners and southern life. And yes, I even love the sadness and heartbreak that always seem to be central themes.
My love affair with books started at an early age. One of my best memories is of Jean and I sitting on the hay in the old barn, sun streaming through multipaned windows that reached practically from floor to ceiling, both reading copies of Gulliver's Travels, though mine, a gift from Gran, had one extra story in it. I can still see the dust motes floating on the sun's rays, muted by the dirt on the windowpanes, and the old apple tree outside the window. And I remember the joy that sinking into such stories brought me. Reading more books than I can possibly remember is what made me a good writer and allowed me to pursue that alternative career when my original career dreams had to be set aside.
To this day, and no doubt on into the future, sinking into a good book is my escape from cares, sorrows. I guess it's better than sinking into a bottle or popping pills, and I can always rationalize that I am staving off dementia by keeping my mind working, exploring narrative and language.
Yes, I'm an addict. I'm addicted to books.