January 17, 2017

Chasing the Paper Dragon

Hello, my name is Cheryl and I am an addict.
Hello Cheryl!

My story is typical. It started out small -  people started to give me the junk for free. But when that dried up, I had to pay for it. There's a place in Detroit where I find myself from time to time. It was once an old glove factory and looks...well...like an old glove factory. There's no air conditioning in the summer, no heat in the winter and everything's covered in a fine layer of dust. But in that dank dark place, I'd find everything I needed for my fix. So I'd go there every chance I could, no matter how terrible the conditions. You know what I mean?

Yes we know!
I don't.
Shut up Harold.

So I guess I should just finally say it out loud. I, Cheryl, am a used-book junkie.

You're probably pissed off right now. I don't blame you. The story of a drug junkie is far more compelling. Drug tales are awesomely tragic and the good ones have their story of staring into the abyss and then finding the courage to live again, all set to, what I imagine to be, a kick-ass soundtrack. Sadly I have no Hunter S. Thompson tales of wild head trips and the hardest drug I take is ibuprofen. And that's purely recreational.

You see, I love the look of an old book, I love the smell of an old book. I have come dangerously close to petitioning my local electives to allow me to marry old books. There's something incredibly romantic about a yellowed page, a bent spine, that unexplained tea stain on page 132 that didn't come from you. They're like little mysteries. You weren't the first one to read this book, there were others before. There's history in those pages. Also the thought of spending all day in a used book store fills me with more glee than it probably should.
But before you say this isn't really a problem....

It isn't.
Shut up Harold and let the lady talk.

The problem I have is that I keep on collecting books with no room to store them. Also I don't read them because I hate sitting still and have the concentration span of a small goldfish. So there they sit, collected and unread, piled under or over other discarded prose in my small storage space. I've rescued them only to banish them to the 7th circle of hell. Or whatever circle of hell fits. You see, I bought Dante's Inferno - but never bothered to read it.

One of my prized finds is a copy of Wuthering Heights with some awesome wood engraved illustrations. I haven't read it yet (of course) but I did read the book in high school, so that kinda counts, I guess. Anyhow, it wasn't only the artwork that intrigued me, it was a small inscription on the inside - Howard F Leitner Nov, 1943. I don't know who he was. I don't know if it was Howard's, or if he gave it to someone or how it ended up at John K King used books in Detroit. But there's a sense that we're connected somehow - through the pages of a beautiful book.
That's probably why I don't own a kindle. There's no real history in a Kindle. You can download novels to friends but there's no real love in that. And as for those explained treasures, like an inscription or a coffee stain, forget about it. You do either one of those things to a Kindle and boom - you've negated the warranty.  And if you borrowed it from someone, they are gonna be pissed.

So I guess the first step is admitting that I have a problem. The second step would be to probably do something to curtail the evil book jones I got going on, but I'll be honest. I have no plans to stop. You know, once an addict...blah blah blah.

Whew! So I got that off my chest. Felt really good. Any questions?

Shut up Harold. 


  1. What a wonderful post, in terms of both the writing and subject matter. Seriously.

    As a fellow bibliophile and human who could happily spend 25 hours a day in used-book stores, HVAC or no HVAC, this just warms my heart.

    And so, given my feelings about Old Paper, I am clearly NOT someone who could "help" your "problem." Unless the help you're looking for involves exploring strange new bookshelves, seeking out old books and old bookplates, and boldly opening books that haven't been opened since the Taft administration.

    I do try to read them as much as possible, too. But I will admit that I have been guilty, many times over, of buying a book because it looked cool. And by cool I mean I have a special fondness, at times, for the most hopeless causes. The ones that have been so used and abused that 99 people out of 100 would have just tossed it in the trash bin. Someone needs to be the savior for those books.

    And the fun doesn't have to end after they're lugged home from the glove factory. There's paging through each one, slowly and carefully, to find the inscriptions (as you mentioned), the old bus tickets, leaves and bird feathers, doodles, dreamy notes about the boy sitting five rows over in history class, and so much more. Every volume so full of stories to tell. And then, after the paging through, comes the best part -- the sorting and shelving.

    Oh yes, I know all about The Book Problem. Isn't it wonderful?

    And I suspect, given your talents, it will be *your* books that future book addicts will be pulling off the shelves in a delightfully musty warehouse somewhere. Cheers!

    1. I love your comment. Yes, there's something awesome in finding old notes, bookmarks, etc in a used book. And thank you for the words of writing encouragement!

  2. And whoo hoo!I just finished reading my gorgeous copy or Wuthering Heights! Yeah me!!!!


Speaketh thee up!