The first collection I recall keeping consisted of my baby teeth. I kept them inside a small glass jar which I tucked away in a drawer. Most children placed their fallen teeth beneath their pillows. I did this once and the Tooth Fairy left me some money. She also left my tooth behind. Into the jar it went. Not all my baby teeth made it into the jar. Just the ones that weren’t swallowed or lost down a drain. I don’t recall why or when the collection started. And I don’t remember when it ended, or what happened to the jar.
Throughout the years I have collected many things. I collected pebbles, stones, and rocks. Pogs and comics and cards. I owned an array of marbles. Kept business cards in a plastic sandwich bag. Fliers and posters for events I never intended to attend. I archived the letters written to me. I kept letters found in public places where former romantics accidentally dropped them. I owned several half-filled marbled composition notebooks filled with adolescent poetry. Journals are tucked away throughout the house. Some forgotten, others carried with me wherever I venture.
I am nothing short of a hoarder. Step into my house and you’ll see nothing but the sickness, this gentle madness, encoded into my literary DNA. There are four boxes of unread comic books stacked besides the collection I started a year ago. I have shelves upon shelves of books. Half of which remain unread. Some of these books were gifts. Most were purchased on whim. They come from many places. From boxes outside professors’ offices. From a withdrawn shelf at the university library. From recycle bins. From Amazon. Barnes and Noble. Better World Books. Several from Hastings during their last days in McAllen, Texas.
I purchased books because their covers called to me. Because there was an itch that needed scratching. Because they were written by authors I’ve come to love. Or authors that I want to love. Or authors who are loved by those I love. Some were purchased to fill an emotional void. Others were purchased by suggestion or recommendation or after reading an article about the writer or a review of the book. I purchased books for research. To educate myself further. To find my center. Because I watched a movie or TV show based on it. Or because an upcoming movie was adapted from a novel that just seemed right up my alley. Once I purchased a book on the sole reason that a girl was reading it in class.
Hanns Bohatta said it best: “The bibliophile is the master of his books, the bibliomaniac their slave.”
Of the two, which am I? Was the ever a time when I controlled these impulses? Can I say that I am the master of my library? Can I say it honestly? Have I always been its slave?
I never stole a book. Not really, anyway. Some were given to me after being liberated from a library. Some were borrowed and never returned. I’m not willing to throw down money for a signed first edition of a classic text. I’m not about to spend a life’s savings on a framed sheet from a manuscript written by James Joyce or Ernst Hemingway or Sylvia Plath. My addition hasn’t reached those extremes. My career choices will never make those fantasies a reality should they ever come to fruition. It’s simple: I buy books to own books.
I shop sales. Take advantage of memberships and free shipping and discounted prices. I hit bargain bins and tables. Lust after three-for-two deals. Kept track when local libraries held sales. I buy used copies of hardcovers or softcovers, but do my best to stray away from mass market paperbacks; they cannot handle my affection or my abuse.
Of all my collections, my library is the newest and, by far, the most rewarding. Those that I have read have molded my prose, my thoughts, my ideals and ideas. I borrowed personality traits and philosophies, making them my own. They have suggested music and movies and other books, which I come to love and adore. My library ranges from the literary to the realms of fantasy and horror. Graphic novels and comic trades and manga stand beside Joyce Carol Oates and T.C. Boyle and Umberto Eco. There are old college text books, not all of them mine. The cheap shelves purchased from Walmart curve sa they exceed the recommended weight. There are small stacks in my bedroom. There are more making it to my lists. Some I’ve already pre-ordered. I subscribed to Comic Bento just to see what it’s like.
What’s the endgame though? As Nicholas A. Basbanes put it: “Whatever the involvement, however, every collector inevitably faces the same harsh reality. After years spent in determined pursuit, a moment arrives when the precious volumes must pass to other shelves. Some accept the parting with calm and foresight; other ignore it entirely. Some erect grand repositories as monuments to their taste; others release their treasures with the whispered hope that they reach safe harbor in the next generation.”
There will come a time when I’m faced with the decision. And I am uncertain of how I’ll respond. Am I the master, or just the slave?