Friday, March 4, 2011

Confessions of a Bibliomaniac

     You may remember that, some time ago, we had the International Year of Literacy. Well, I won't deny that it is useful to know how to read and write. But I must present myself as a warning of the dangers you run. I am a bibliomaniac. I am addicted to books.
     My sad story began even before I started school, when I received my first alphabet book. After that, my misguided parents and a doting aunt provided me with a steady stream of Little Golden Books, and Walt Disney Comics. These apparently harmless materials inflame the most sensitive and vulnerable part of a child: his imagination. There is a constant temptation to go for the stronger stuff: Phantom comics, adventure stories, literary classics, non fiction.
    Then there is the permanent pusher's ploy to ply his patient with cheap, or even free drugs until he is hooked. In the same way, I discovered that the Sandgate District State Library was free to children. But after a few years I had to give it up because of the ever-increasing pile of books I'd acquired for myself. Now I was walking the streets following my addiction. Ladies and gentlemen, an uncle of mine who once beat his addiction - to alcohol, that is, not books - found that for the next six months he would automatically walk into every pub he passed. In the same way, I find myself drawn like a magnet of bookstores, if only to look inside.
     Then, one evening, I was on a bus - reading, of course - when an old man in worn, shabby clothes sat down beside me. He pulled a bundle of books onto his lap, and announced: "They keep me poor."
     Well! I could see the writing on the wall. I resolved that if I could not beat my addiction, I would at least try to restrict myself to secondhand bookshops, and that if I saw a book I liked I would walk away and think twice before going back. But there are some times when I just can't help myself - especially when I am at the Lifeline Bookfest where hardback novels are going for 20 cents and travel books for 50 cents, and fellow addicts are raking them into clothes baskets.
     And there's another catch. If you read too much of adventures stories, travel and history, you're likely to end up with an even more expensive pastime: travel. You wouldn't know it, of course. Go to any of the big resorts - no problem! Half the people there can't even read. But join any of the so-called "adventure" holidays, such as crossing Africa or South America in a truck, and you'll find that every blessed passenger is a bibliomaniac. They all bring their books to read and swap, and discuss while they should be watching the scenery. They even have a library on the truck in case somebody runs out.
     I can't help myself. Only just today I had business in a part of the city I don't usually frequent, and I happened to pass a bookshop I don't normally see. Naturally, I went inside. Would you believe? There was a book on a subject I'd always wanted to read, and for only $18. I had to buy it.
     The trouble is, I buy books faster than I can read them. I have to put them on a list to keep track of them. So far, I have 193 waiting to be read, and that doesn't include the ones accumulated by my mother, who said that when she was a girl she was afraid she'd die before she read all the books in the world.
     And that's not all. A drunkard will throw away his empty bottle. A smoker throws away the packet. A hardened bibliomaniac never throws away anything. Either he thinks he'd like to read it again, or it was so good he'd like to keep it for his heirs, or it'll serve as a reference book and he knows he will never see it again it he gets rid of it. Right now every spare area of wall space is taken up with bookcases. They are marching down the shelves two deep. I fill up another shelf every year, and I don't know what I'm going to do!
     Readers, hard core addicts like me are probably incurable. But think of your children. How do you know they are not swapping comics behind the school toilet? Parents, if you love your children, snoop! If you find any reading material in their rooms, burn it! Then give the little brats a clip over the ear and make them watch TV. Otherwise, they might end up like me.
     This was another speech I gave at a Toastmasters' humorous speech contest in 1991. Yes, my mother did pass away before she read all the books in the world. As for me, I have never broken my addiction, but I have managed to control my buying. I haven't been to the Bookfest for well over 20 years, and when I glance through bookstores, I treat the wares as if they were other men's wives: lovely to look at, but definitely out of bounds. Thus, I hope to have finished all my unread books by the time I reach 70. Then, perhaps, I shall have time to reread some of my favourites.  I have partially solved the space problem by acquiring a larger house. As for my books, I intend to bequeath the non-fiction ones to my alma mater, Queensland University. When you have books on obscure African tribes, and travel books about India published in the 19th century, you want them left somewhere where they can be found by people with a legitimate interest - not scattered throughout thrift shops and book exchanges, which is where I found most of them. Besides, in view of the narrow-mindedness of university librarians, this may be the only chance the students get to find a proper collection on cryptozoology and ufology.
     Now it appears I have developed another addiction: to the internet. Also, I have married a woman who is addicted to shopping.

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