If Books Were Toxic, I’d Be Dead

Whenever something triggers me to imagine a truly terrible outcome, suddenly in the hospital, somehow in prison, stranded in a foreign environment, my thoughts always coalesce around a desperate fear I would not have enough books, or heaven forbid, any books. Sometimes I imagine there would be at least one book and I would read it over and over. So, in my mind, though I’m freezing on a remote mountaintop after a small plane crash, my first set of concerns is how many times I can read House of Mirth or the Talented Mr. Ripley before the magic no longer works. 

I am addicted to reading. I know I am. There is no public shame because the effects don’t cause problems. Internally, I worry about my supply. It’s the worst feeling to finish the last book of a favorite author knowing I have come to end of the road with that particular escape.

I find reading to be intensely pleasurable. If a favorite book were to go on forever, somehow sustain its structural perfection but never conclude and I could opt to leave my life and read into oblivion, I don’t find that a totally awful thought. And that seems like an awful thought.

Thought reading has given me so much, I am not addicted to the benefits, useful as they may be. I am addicted to the escape. When I am reading, I am not suffering. So simple.

I love to eat and read at the same time. I don’t get to do that too often as I usually eat lunch with my husband and eat dinner with the family. I might do it at breakfast, but I’ve taken to reading off a phone screen, and that’s always subpar, which is good because it’s pretty easy to break away and get back to real life.

I recently had the opportunity to eat lunch alone, my white table bright from a beautiful sunny day, I was having sliced apple with cheese and crackers, another lifelong favorite activity. So yummy! And so easy to clean up. If and when I end up alone, half my calories will come from cheese and crackers. Pair this with a paperback novel and it just can’t get any better. 

I have traveled the world through books. I’ve read authors from many countries, translations from their native language. I learned about all sorts of people and all sorts of activities. I cannot imagine who I would be without this wealth of voyeuristic knowledge. On some level, I have lived many lives, been many people, learned the lessons of others tragic choices, walked the cities and shores of foreign lands. So many small details which have never left me.

Did you know that in Mumbai police ply detainees with candy in order to make them thirsty and them deny them water as form of confessional coercion? (Maximum City – Suketu Mehta)

In the same book is a killer who has slept in a single room with his extended family his whole life is afraid to sleep alone.

Being frightening doesn’t make you less afraid.

This is what I remember.

My husband is also a voracious reader. We rarely swap books, though he usually tells me about what he’s reading. His habits are more eclectic yet cohesive then mine. He is a natural historian and reads widely on a variety of intersecting topics. Marianne Faithful’s steamy autobiography next to a collection of Tennessee Williams short stories next to Merlin Sheldrake’s treatise on fungi. I am lucky to live with someone who always has something interesting to share.

Residing in a transient neighborhood of apartments, we both regularly bring home books orphaned to the sidewalk. I see a pile in the distance and feel dread even as I hustle towards it. Our bookcases overflow with books laying horizontal on top of the ones placed properly. Books line the hallways. We frequently rehome them to friends, Goodwill or the library but still more come in the front door than leave though the back.

We have two bedside tables each. Yes, you read that correctly, our bed is flanked by four tables stacked high with books both read and unread. That was not a conscious choice and I can’t see making it on purpose, but I’ve grown fond of my second bedside book table with its foot-high sloppy stacks. I’ve told myself to clean it up because I like things to be tidy, and yet I am facing, right now, in this very moment, that it is a comfort to me, and I want to keep it. At least if I get sick and have to take to my bed, I know I am all set.

4 thoughts on “If Books Were Toxic, I’d Be Dead

  1. Your wonderful post resonated with me – we also have overflowing bookshelves and piles of books on bedside tables! My summer (in Australia) project has been to read Marcel Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past – inherited from my mother – it’s been a delight to find the parts she marked!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much Sue. I appreciate your response. Though I sometimes use books to run away, it’s still mostly a beautiful past time and I know I will like someone if their house is full of books. That is so lovely to read your mother’s copy of Remembrance of Things Past.

      Like

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