Confessions of a book fiend by Quentin Bates

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They’re everywhere, sneaking into corners and taking up residence, lying quietly and unnoticed behind doors and under beds, making shelves creak during the night. It’s an affliction, but not necessarily a bad one. There are others that are so much worse.

It’s the books. There are people who have own books. It’s true, I’ve been inside houses occasionally where there isn’t a shred of printed matter to be seen other than a Chinese takeaway menu, a glossy gossip mag or the ragged remnants of a newspaper lining the floor of the budgie’s cage. These people can be recognised by the blank smile, the dead eyes and the pallor that comes of spending hours in front of the TV having entertainment forced down their necks.

I’m not one of them. I’ll put up my hand and admit happily that books are an essential part of life and I couldn’t imagine an existence without a book within easy reach. The idea of not being able to read when presented with the occasional empty moment is painful. If I have to travel somewhere, then it used to be three books, minimum; one to read, another to read when the first one’s finished and a spare in case the second book turned out not to hit the spot. These days it’s two books and a Kindle, but that’s another story.

The place I live in full of books. They’re everywhere; on shelves and in piles here and there. There are boxes in the attic and the To-Be-Read pile has spread to the shed and even to the car. I’ll freely admit that I acquire books faster than I can read them, both new and used from second-hand shops and car boot sales. A 1933 guide to British trees? A quid? I’ll have that. A 1951 first edition Simenon? A fiver? Well, all right. An account of the Mesopotamia campaign in the air by ‘Tailspin’ published privately in 1923? Why not? I’ll give it a good home. You get the picture. Walking past a bookshop without having a quick look is almost palpably painful, especially somewhere with dark shelves at the back loaded with the contents of a former public library of the kind that are being shamefully closed down across modern Britain. Even at the height of the Great Depression in the 1930s, when times really were tough, the idea of closing libraries was not even mooted. But times have changed, and in Hampshire where I live, libraries are no longer libraries. They’re ‘Discovery Centres’, which means a café, a row of subsidised PCs and a few books at the back somewhere.

A few years ago, under pressure from the management, I got rid of a lot of books, carting ten boxes of unwanted books to the nearest charity shop. It wasn’t easy to see much difference afterwards. A few shelves looked on the light side, and admittedly I did get rid of some of the stuff that nobody was ever going to read. But as I tend to browse the same shops that took those books, I almost certainly ended up buying a few of them back and it wasn’t long before those thin shelves had got back to their normal plump selves.

Three days into 2013, and I’ve acquired a dozen or so books over Christmas and New Year, although some were presents. In those days I’ve read four, so it should be possible for a boffin with a slide rule to calculate precisely the average book size and volume, and to work out from there the exact date when I’ll have to move out and sleep in the greenhouse (as the shed will also be full by then). That date will also be skewed by the presence of the boxes containing a small library owned by my daughter, who is currently studying abroad, who may one day return to claim her books. On the other hand, as she suffers from the same affliction, she may decide to leave them and replace them with others.

Then there’s the Kindle. It was a present and I wasn’t sure I was going to like it. In fact, I like it a lot more than I had expected. I’m not reading any fewer dead tree books, and the Kindle complements ‘real’ books rather than replacing them. I use it in times and places where I would normally read, and it has helped me discover stuff that I might not otherwise have come across.

So it hasn’t solved the problem of the To-Be-Read pile. Instead, the Kindle is becoming a To-Be-Read pile on its own account, in addition to the TBR piles in the bedroom, living room, kitchen and shed, plus the handful of books in the car that are dangerously close to metamorphosing into a fledgling TBR pile in their own right. Not that I see the TBR problem as a problem; to take one of those trite management aphorisms, I see it more as an opportunity. To some people it may be a house full of books, to me it’s a lot of old friends and plenty of choice.

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