“This is a sickness.”
That’s what I often tell my friends when I take and post pictures of the books overflowing from my bedside table down onto the floor. Or when I vow to read fifteen of the not-yet-read books on my shelves before letting myself buy another new book. Or that time my suitcase opened itself just enough to leak paperbacks all down the airport escalator. (I know, I know, I need a Kindle, but I haven’t got there yet.)
This is a sickness.
I look around sometimes at the stacks and piles, and find myself daunted. Exactly how long is it going to take me to read all this? Will I be able to do it in my lifetime? Just how healthy will I have to keep myself in order to live that long?
Goodness knows I’m trying hard enough to get through them all—I’ve generally got at least eight or ten books going at a time, but all that means is that it takes me longer to finish any given one of them. Should I start taking vacation days to devote to catching up with the books? Maybe I should cool it at the library and the bookstore for a while. But then there was that tantalizing new book review in yesterday’s newspaper . . .
I worry, sometimes, that my booksickness is just a manifestation of some of the worst sins that we Christians are warned against: greed, materialism, even gluttony of a sort. Any other possession piled up in the bedroom and the home office and the basement would surely signal some grave spiritual weakness, or, at the very least, the need to call the “Hoarders” people and turn myself in. It’s the same with books . . . isn’t it?
I dare to hope that it isn’t, despite the guilt I feel when the desire for just one more book tempts me past the limits of my book budget again, or when I find myself faced with yet more overdue fees at the library. Because to borrow or to buy a book is to obtain something that transcends a mere physical object (despite my love for books with beautiful covers). To read a book is to come in contact with another mind, to step outside myself, to learn and absorb and grow. Even an introvert like myself, when surrounded by books, may be in the midst of a crowd and be truly happy in it.
As usual, C.S. Lewis put it superbly. In An Experiment in Criticism, he wrote:
“Those of us who have been true readers all our life seldom fully realize the enormous extension of our being which we owe to authors. We realize it best when we talk with an unliterary friend. He may be full of goodness and good sense but he inhabits a tiny world. In it, we should be suffocated. The man who is contented to be only himself, and therefore less a self, is in prison. My own eyes are not enough for me, I will see through those of others.”
If to be unliterary is to be suffocated, then to buy or borrow another book is to obtain more air to breathe. Perhaps, after all, booksickness is a sign of true health. So when I rummage for storage space for just one more, I’m learning to quash the guilt and simply give thanks for the wisdom of this particular mind and heart that I’ve been close to for a little while. And when my oldest goddaughter, nearly twelve, writes me to gush about the latest book she’s read, and ask what I’m reading, I know a joy like no other. There are some sicknesses where contagion is the greatest thing that could possibly happen.
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In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
Gina Dalfonzo is author of One by One: Welcoming the Singles in Your Church. She is also associate features editor at Christianity Today, and a columnist at Christ and Pop Culture. Her writing has appeared in The Atlantic, Christianity Today, First Things, The Weekly Standard, National Review, and elsewhere.