Last night at Book Passage in the Ferry Plaza for a Left Coast Writers poetry event, I realized that I never enter a bookstore without wanting to read every single book therein, which I know is impossible. I have this strange feeling that tucked between the covers is a message that I can’t afford to miss, a line that will open doors or explain some of the many mysteries that defy my understanding.
Of course, more often than not, it’s true. Whether the books I pull from the shelves are fiction, non-fiction, or poetry, they rarely disappoint. I generally find something … a beautiful, mind-bending line (last night Grace Grafton’s “so in love with our I-knows that we detached our hearts and hung them on the thorns”), an inspiring character or idea, a koan to ponder over. Often the books that seem least likely to please, yield the greatest reward, so I try not to overlook … say, a book about zombies … ha, ha.
I once judged a literary contest where the entries tallied to over a hundred books (I think it was three hundred, but the number may have grown over time). With my cover-to-cover obsession, I actually read them all, a daunting task and one that the more experienced judges did not embrace. Did it discourage me, make me less of a literary omnivore? No, not at all.
And there are so many books! The shortfall isn’t in reading matter, but time, so I prefer to purchase books, and although I did enjoy a four-year stint as a book reviewer for the Sunday S.F. Chronicle/Examiner years ago when the books came to me, I like bagging the prizes on my own … selecting from shelves and shelves of possibilities for consumption at some later date, a method preferable to the one that ends in excessive library finds and no end of guilt.
Yes, I’d be ever so happy to live in a bookstore, an existence I approximated in college when I worked at one. It’s a good thing I live in a mammoth of an edifice—a three-story Queen Anne that is—like the wooly mammoth—the out-of-season construct of another place and time. But I have three floors of rooms all full of bookshelves stocked with classics, poetry, books on travel, mysteries, histories, memoirs and so on—some still waiting to be devoured.
I collect books. I also give them away as gifts, because reads like The Rosie Project, Cool Gray City of Love and Shadow on the Crown just have to be shared.
And I keep buying them because I’m hopeful—even in the face of a compulsion that seizes me when confronted with a wall of books. I really do love entertaining that hope; it’s a pleasant addiction—sisyphean yet strangely satisfying.
By the way, for a great book on zombies, check out Dead Love, available in hardcover and paper. Just saying …