15 November 2011

Why I like books

“If you go home with somebody, and they don't have books, don't fuck 'em!" -John Waters

My friend Adam posted a link on my Facebook page about writers and their book collections. It's basically about their obsession with books. Though they post their favorites, none of which I might add I've actually read, but I get a great, cuddly feeling about it anyways.

Book reading has always been for me a grand adventure. Maybe I missed by true path of my life by not going the literature route in school. I mean I love books, and I feel the need today to continue pushing books onto people. But then again, I loved cooking as well, and I feel -at time- more regret about never going to cooking school. Then again, after catching Iron Chef from time to time and Gordon Ramsey, I'm sure my love for cooking would have eventually like bananas past their prime (even though they make great Banana Bread).

Still, I don't buy into the notion that peoples lives are so busy that they have no time to pick up a book. Sure we have people studying to be doctors, lawyers and what not, but you still have the time to pick-up a book, one for pleasure and not for school, and read. To me, like sex (which is very once in a blue moon with me), reading a book for pleasure even when other things are important, is a most satisfyingly thing.

But I understand the temptation of TV and the internet. They are suckers of time, easy and mindless. Just something to relax by after hours of studying for that long and laborious test or a trying day at work. Dancing with the Stars gets 18 million viewers for no other reason than people think that after a busy day, TV is far easier than picking up a book. I accept that as an excuse, but in the end, that is what it is, an excuse.

I'm not sure exactly where my love of reading comes from. My mom used to read, but she sort of gave it up. I mean, she became, after my Dad died when we were kids, that person who had little time to read. She had two boys and two girls to bring up as a single parent. Her time was devoted to us, and when we were all tucked away in bed, the lights dimmed and she had time to herself, the TV became her excuse not to read. And even though the late 1960s and early 1970s was a time of three broadcast networks and a handful of local stations, she always found something to watch.
Today, with literally hundreds of TV channels, people can find something to watch. And if they can't, there is always the internet. Not only can you waste time doing nothing, you can also watch TV shows that no TV station is even airing anymore. And I know life, the economy and other factors get in people's way of reading, but if you can find time to watch the old boob tube, you can find time to read.

But I digress.

Memories are fluid, and sometimes what you think is a memory -especially when trying to recall childhood- is nothing more than a remembrance of someone else. A memory that you've co-opted, I guess. I was just two months shy of my sixth birthday when my dad passed. And up until my mom remarried in 1972, most of those four plus years are gone from my memory. I have flashes, and sometimes objects trigger something, or when I talk to my Uncle Harold, I can remember things about those wilderness years. But I no longer think of most them as true memories. I think I've co-opted them and accepted them as "real" memories. 
So after my mom wed again in '72, I was 9 going on 10. I don't know if my troubles that I had after my dad died (I have no memory of what I did, but I was apparently a pain in the ass. But that was a time when there was nothing around, no people to help kids cope with the loss of a parent) started me on my reading adventure. My mom has told me that out of her four kids, I was the easiest to keep amused. She has told me more than on one occasion, that if she put me in a corner with my toy cars, she could come back hours later and find me still playing them.

So between '72 and my start of high school in the fall of 1977, I read some. I know I digested The Three Investigators -perhaps, as I think of it, this series started me on my path of liking stuff that is not necessarily popular; I never read The Hardy Boys- and even tried the Bantam line of Star Trek books my older brother started reading. Of those, I read more of the James Blish ones, if only because they were adaptations of the TV episodes, and I guess, maybe, I comprehended them better. I read a few of the original Trek books that came out then as well. 
But 1977 is the year I really began to take reading more serious. Part of the reason, maybe, was while I knew something was different about me, I could not put a finger on it. What I did know was that I was tall, skinny, concaved chested kid who was not into sports (much to my older brothers chagrin), but loved TV and books. 

So for my freshman year of High School, I devoured one Agatha Christie after another. I also read other mystery authors, but Christie was the one I went back to again and again. By then, as well, Star Wars had entered the lexicon of my life, and I remember reading the movie adaptation of the film before actually ever seeing the movie (which I finally saw the summer of '79, a year or less before The Empire Strikes Back was do). 1978 also brought Battlestar Galactica, which I became obsessed with (and mostly because its 3-hour premiere episode aired on my 16th birthday). I still have all those novels that were published during that time, though the earliest were -like the Blish books- adaptations of the episodes. Then came Buck Rogers (I don't think they produced book versions?) followed by a watershed year for me, which was 1979. 

While I continued to read -and because while both my older brother and sister had TV's in there rooms, and we had the one in the family room, the shows I wanted to watch were the shows no else wanted to, I ended up somewhere reading- TV became my real love, and science fiction -or space operas- became my obsession. 

Still, books held an important place in my life. I read and read, and in the summer of 1980, when grocery shopping with my mom at the old Eagle store at Higgins and Golf Road, I stumbled upon the paperback edition of Stephen King's The Stand. At the time, it would be the longest book I ever read (if I remember right, it clocked in at about 820 pages) and I took it as a challenge. 

Needless to say, Stephen King has become one of only writers I come back to again and again. It's been 31 years, and I've read almost everything he's put out. 

So in the 1980s, I began my love of King, my love of Star Trek (launched now as a movie series, and eventually the spin-off series in 1987), Star Wars and had stumbled upon Doctor Who on WTTW, the PBS station in Chicago, as early as 1980. I read a lot of fantasy -inspired by The Lord of The Rings, of course- and space opera science fiction. On occasion I would read what I call hardcore science fiction, like Asimov, Clarke and Pohl, but I was never entranced by them. I mean they were tales that took modern day issues (somewhat) and wrapped a science fiction story around it (like what the old Twilight Zone did), but maybe I was unable to comprehend the social and political aspects they were trying to convene. 
Or I got bored with the idea? Though I think the reason I read Lucifer's Hammer by Jerry Pournelle and Larry Niven was its "disaster, end of the world" theme -which was hugely popular in the 70s due to The Towering Inferno, Earthquake and the endless Airport sequels- than the geopolitical and science aspects about how to deflect a meteor hitting the earth. I did read a few other collaborations  by the two, The Mote in God's Eye and Footfall, but those hardcore sci fi novels were not what I wanted to read.

Fantasy -both good and bad- really took up most of the 1980s for me. And when I started working for B. Dalton's Bookseller in Woodfield Mall for Christmas 1987, I was on the road to long-time career in the book business that furthered my addiction.
Though I buy far less books now than I did thirty years ago, it is still an addiction. And like Thomas Jefferson, I as well "cannot live without books." Its the one thing that has stayed with me, even as my love of TV and movies has waned. It is my one consistent companion, and one I hope that will be with me always.
Which brings me to the digital age, and the disappearing physical bookstore. I've become, in some ways, the old guy who yells for kids to get off his lawn. As much as I embrace new technology, I cannot seem to embrace the e-readers. Yes, as my friend Jody says, the physical book is a dinosaur, the future is carrying hundreds of books -like I do know with music- on a small, hand-held device you can take anywhere. I don't think that real books are dead, though I agree as more people -especially the younger generation coming up- begin adapting to e-readers, we will not need 800 Barnes & Nobles stores (the demise of Borders can be easily defined as a company that failed to evolve). 

But I love books, love the feel, the heft and smell of them. Will they come a burden -as Edmund White says in the article -to those I leave behind? Sure, but after I am gone, I hope they can donate them, whether to a museum or what ever charity exists between now and then. 

I will continue, somehow, someway, to buy books. There was quote that was on the wall of my Borders here, one that I love and fully understand. Humanist Desderius Erasmus said "When I get a little money I buy books and if any is left I buy food."

That, in the end, is me.

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