Being a Book Addict (aka Bibliophile)

I am a book addict. There, I said it.

Luckily being a book addict doesn’t have too many negative connotations. Except when it comes to moving house, and suddenly your book collection expands into a sea of packing boxes and you wonder if they’ve been procreating when you weren’t looking.

It doesn’t help that I’m on a first name basis with the owner of our local used bookstore, where I can buy books at half the (already low) price using my in-store credit. It’s a great shop where I’ve found such gems as Jeannette Winterson’s Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?, Margot Lee Shetterly’s Hidden Figures, Beth Powning’s Seeds of Another Summer, and more.

I’ve always loved books. As a child I made a personal library and checked books out to my family with special slips.

These days I practice “tsundoku,” Japanese for:

“the practice of leaving a book unread after buying it, typically piled up together with other unread books.”

That would be this shelf next to my bed (note I have read about 1/4 of these books. Progress!):

I’m also hugely on board with Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s idea:

“a private library is not an ego-boosting appendage but a research tool. Read books are far less valuable than unread ones… Indeed, the more you know, the larger the rows of unread books. Let us call this collection of unread books an antilibrary.”

I love how reading many books gives you entry into a myriad of conversations—both on- and off-line—about books and their contents. I love how I can connect disparate books because I read fairly broadly, and can see how ideas hop between books like little mental sparks. I like a good, deep dive into a book, where I can add marginalia and underline key passages (or “deface the book,” as my husband would say).

My biggest problem is keeping track of what I’ve read that intrigues me, even if it’s just a quote or two. I copy quotes into my notebook, and have started photocopying longer quotes. Then I ran across Ryan Holiday’s method using notecards to organize quotes by main idea, and wondered if that might be the way to go (except then you have to store books *AND* boxes of notecards. Though I just had the bright idea that you could use an old library card catalogue – and HOW COOL WOULD THAT BE??)

Anyway. One could say I eat, sleep, and breath books.

Lately, our house has become even more of a book repository, as I’ve been doing some book reviewing.

I have always wanted to be a book reviewer. I wanted to be like Kathryn Schulz, former book critic at New York Magazine, and now a staff writer at The New Yorker. She wrote about how she’d go away on holiday and come back to stacks of books in her mailbox, from people hoping she’d review their books.

Or like Maria Popova, from Brainpickings, who spends her days reading books—often historical books—to put together her fabulous literary posts.

The trouble is, it’s getting difficult to find outlets that want book reviews. For example, these are the books I’ve been able to publish reviews of in the past year. thanks to Canadian Science Publishing and Water Canada.

These are the books I’m currently working on. The first set is for an essay at LitHub about women writing the west that covers five books: Gretel Ehrlich – The Solace of Open Spaces; E. Annie Proulx – Bird Cloud; Terry Tempest Williams – Refuge; Ellen Meloy – Eating Stone; and Anne Zwinger – Run, River, Run. I’ve also been assigned to review Mark Serreze’s Brave New Arctic for Science magazine.But then there are the books that I’ve been unable to find review homes for. A book review requires an editor who is keen on publishing reviews, which can be tough, especially with such time-sensitive material. Most places want to review a book within 6 months of it coming out, if not sooner.

I’ve been thinking that book reviews are more easily placed if you write an essay about a book (or 3 or 5), rather than just do a straight up review. This is borne out by recent conversations I’ve had with the editor of The Walrus, and of Sierra Magazine.

So in that vein, I have two books for which I have essay ideas. For example, an essay revolving around Lauret Savoy’s Trace and the ways in which her story keeps sliding out of my grasp (and how it’s similar to my own experience), perhaps for somewhere like Catapult. Or a combined essay and Q&A about wildfire to share Ed Struzik’s book Firestorm (this I’m not sure where to pitch).And then there are the books I haven’t figured out how to handle—in this case David George Haskell’s The Songs of Trees, and Sandra Postel’s Replenish. (I got a copy of Britt Wray’s book because I interviewed her for my women in science series at Canadian Science Publishing.) No one wants reviews of them (I know, I’ve pitched several times!). But I’m not sure how to weave them into essays either.

I may be relegated to writing these book reviews on my blog, which isn’t a bad thing, but might not bring the publicity the publishers had hoped.

Meanwhile, I have a few books to read in the next few weeks. But it’s not as though I wouldn’t have been reading anyway. 🙂 And let me know if you’ve got a line on an (affordable) old library card catalogue.


8 thoughts on “Being a Book Addict (aka Bibliophile)

  1. Thank you again for another entertaining (and distracting to my workday) blogpost! I also love books and reading! When I was growing up, the library was my favorite destination. Many flashlight batteries were used as a kid under the covers while I read long after my bedtime! A great way to keep track your books and all your quotes is Zotero – my fave cloud library – it has a big ‘notes’ section where you can jot down excerpts or thoughts about the book. I know it’s usually used as a writing reference/citation collection but it works well for attaching quotes and your thoughts, to the book. We’ve moved a few times now, and rather painfully, I relinquished some of my books to others to enjoy – but I still have stacks and shelves of books. I read online now, but if it’s a book I really like, I buy it, to have and to hold 🙂 There is something comforting about looking at your shelves of books and remembering the stories, ideas, wisdom, and laughs they communicated.

    • Ha yes I recall reading by flashlight as well. I don’t think I was as stealthy as I thought I was lol. I, too, like looking at my shelves and mentally re-reading the best books. I have to do another pruning soon, just to keep them manageable. I’ve heard of Zotero, but honestly I really like the analog option of using note cards categorized by subject. There’s something about reading things on real paper…

  2. Yes, I do remember the books with your name stamped into them and your sister being mad because some of those books were hers! Great read, this blog.

  3. Oooh, please publish your book reviews on your blog. I use reviews of science literature to choose which books get to collect in my antilibrary.

    • Hi Eryne – I’ll likely publish a couple on my blog. If you’re looking for the ones I’ve published elsewhere, click the “Freelance work” link and scroll down until you find the book titles. 🙂

  4. Re: moving & books…one truck for the house contents, one for the library. Slowly getting used to that.

    As for the marginalia, pfft! defacing books! Many a sleepless night I sit by one of the many bookshelves, gently erasing the penciled comments and underlines with my trusty stash of pink pearls.

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