I love books.
Books are the only things I love as much as I love travelling to distant places. Through books, I explore places that I will never visit during time periods in which I will never live through experiences that I will never have first hand. Today I can be in the middle of a battle in Middle Earth and tomorrow I can be caught up in a mystery in Cairo. Last week I could have entered into the angst-filled reflections of a teenage boy and next week I can disappear into a wife’s gradual unraveling of the mysterious murder swirling around her own husband. All through the pages of my books.
I think I’m a natural born reader who was born to another natural born reader (my dad) and an English Literature teacher (my mom). From as far back as I can remember, books have been important to me and my mother in particular fed my passion until I could feed it myself. She had me willingly reading A House For Mr. Biswas and Miguel Street long before I got to high school, where they were on the syllabus. I read Sprat Morrison and Escape to Last Man’s Peak during the summer before seventh grade even started and by the time I hit the eleventh grade, I was hiding novels behind my school books and stealth-reading instead of paying attention in Physics class.
By the time I got to the twelfth grade, a fellow avid reader and I were operating an illegal book borrowing service for members of our class from out of an empty locker at school. We only broke up our operation when another prefect (yes, we were also prefects) found out about it and threatened to turn us in (she was such a narc).
When I finally started getting an allowance, I would use a good portion of it to buy books. That’s when I started feeding my addiction myself. When I started earning my own money I was able to increase my book budget and there was never a good reason not to buy a book that I wanted. I particularly loved collecting early edition hard cover Nancy Drew books and, in fact, I managed to amass the entire series from an early print run.
Many a happy Saturday morning was spent browsing through my local used books stores and scouring the poorly stocked shelves of typical Jamaican new book dealers. I hated returning home empty-handed from a book-buying excursion and usually persisted, going from store to store, until I managed to find at least one book that seemed worth buying. During my brief time in Northern California, there was a Barnes & Noble store just across the highway from where I lived. On some days when I needed a break from studying or working on complex assignments, I would spend happy hours there just browsing and reading. In fact, it was at that Barnes & Noble that I picked up my copy of The Lord of The Rings trilogy. I spent two weeks of that summer lost in Middle Earth when I wasn’t working.
For most of my life since I’ve been in charge of myself, I can’t remember a time when I didn’t visit a book store at least once every week. I love book stores because that’s where I get my books. I don’t like going to book stores with people who don’t love books because I despise being rushed through the experience. I want to spend time and savour the experience the same way that a wine connoisseur savours an exquisite vintage.
Once I fall in love with a book, I never willingly get rid of it – those that I don’t love I take to a second hand books store – and I don’t like to loan my books to people who aren’t book lovers too, because I don’t know if they’ll treat my books with the respect and love that they deserve. I also don’t make it a practice to loan my beloved books to people who I don’t know because I have no idea if they’re book thieves.
It was books that kept the flame of my desire to travel at a low burn for those many years when I allowed myself to believe that the desire was silly and impractical. It was books that kept that flame from going out completely, because I could never resist escaping into the next far-off adventure that awaited me in the pages of my latest book. And it was books that gave me solace when I was at my most unhappy.
So you can perhaps begin to imagine my heartbreak when I lost all of my books in the Great Breakup of ’14. In the confusion of moving, most of my boxes and boxes of books got left behind and I was never able to reclaim them. I had to go through an emotional breakup with my oldest and most faithful companions. I had to let them go and accept that they were gone. I had to accept that, as much as I loved them, they were only things and can eventually be replaced. But it hurt. So much effort over so much of my life, gone.
In the intervening time since I took up my nomadic lifestyle, I’ve avoided resuming my relationship with book stores and with printed books for practical reasons. I literally have no place to keep, carry or store books. I avoid bookstores for this reason because it torments me to be so close to all those books that are waiting for me to love them and not be able to buy them. These days I rely mostly on my Kindle app to satisfy my desire to read but, for a true book lover like me, it’s just not the same. There are books I want to buy but don’t because I want the actual book in my hands.
A few weeks ago, I was talking to a colleague. Like me, she lives a nomadic life and, also like me, she professes to be a lover of books. I shared with her my anticipation of the time to come, when certain conditions in my life are met, when I will start buying printed books again – replacing those that I lost two and a half years ago and adding new ones to my collection. She told me that she’s old-school and doesn’t do e-books so she buys books wherever she goes and leaves them behind for the next person who comes to take her place. I thought about that practice and I see the generosity of her actions but willingly leaving a book that I love behind is something that I can’t do. I just can’t.
So I’ll hold on for a while longer, picking up the odd impossible-not-to-buy book as I go, while I continue to use my e-reader as a stop-gap, eagerly awaiting the day when I can unleash my book love again.