Jan Stafford Kellis

Battling Reading Addiction

The following story is not for the faint-hearted. Turn back now if you’re the least bit squeamish.

I recently had a close encounter with my addiction. It reminded me who’s in charge (not me) and who controls my behavior (not me). My addiction—I’ll call it Pierre—is responsible for my low checking account balance, my lack of focus on a given task, and my constant yearning for the next hit, the next bump, the next delicious swig of literature.

Pierre lives in the shadows. He lurks, seemingly casual, highly attuned to my every mood, waiting for the first sign of inattentiveness, of distraction, of ennui. He has no reflection in mirrors, and yet, I can sometimes feel him controlling me and smell his putrid breath. He’s the devil on my shoulder. He killed the angel who once lived on my other shoulder. I battle Pierre alone, and I recently lost a major fight.

This year started with the shine of a positive light. My sister and I went shopping at a secondhand store in early January where I found and purchased eight used books for the grand total price of $19.78. She drove while I shuffled my new books. I put them in the bag, took them back out, re-read the back covers, re-shuffled, replaced them in the bag, repeat, repeat, repeat.

“Right now, I can’t imagine why people buy brand new books,” I said.

“Oh, because you never buy brand new books?”

Did I mention my sister is a smartass?

“Not this year. 2018 is the Year Of The Used Book,” I said.

She glanced away from the road to see if I’d grown two heads or morphed into a cyborg.

You’re not going to buy new books? Okay.” Her sarcasm filled the cab of the truck.

“Not this year. I have three hardbacks and five paperbacks. That’s about $150 worth of brand new books, and I bought them all for $19.78. Which was a good year, by the way.”

“Okay, so you’re not buying any new books. Let me know how it goes.” Her tone dismissed my nascent resolution.

I shrugged, determined to honor my used-book pledge.

“You’ll see.” (Actually, I only said this in my head.)

Sometimes my sister knows me better than I know myself. I usually ignore this fact, choosing instead to learn the lesson over and over again.

Weeks passed. I bought used books at every opportunity. I bought two used books at the library auction ($8 each, a bit high for used books, but it was for a good cause). I bought four books at the dollar store (technically, they were new, but they were $1 each, so I qualified them as used). Used books were my new drug. Searching for used books was like a scavenger hunt, and I had to remind myself not to purchase books simply because they were used. The books I bought had to be books I’d actually read. (Did I mention I also suffer from a shopping addiction?)

I kept receiving enticing invitations from the Bookworms Anonymous Of The Month Club, which has updated its entire business model since my great-grandmother joined the BOTMC in her 87th year. Granted, a couple of decades have passed (okay, three decades) but I didn’t know the BOTMC was still in business, let alone that it had embraced technology with such enthusiasm.

I sighed a virtuous sigh, then deleted the emails without reading them.

I announced my determination to purchase only used books during 2018 at our monthly Bookworms Anonymous meeting. The Worms seemed skeptical and vaguely supportive.

Meanwhile, the BOTMC kept emailing, using ever more interesting, more intriguing subject lines. I once caught sight of a beautiful book cover, but I deleted the email. I clicked with authority. I’d already decided—there was no decision here—this was not the year to purchase brand new books.

I added up the money I’d saved so far by not purchasing new books. Nearly three hundred dollars. I envisioned this money in stacks, in crumpled balls, folded into origami birds, crammed into a jar. Green and comforting.

The BOTMC emailed me yet again. Had Pierre given them my email address? Had he whispered my name to their marketing department?

One day, while checking my email and waiting on hold with my insurance company, I opened a message from BOTMC. I was interested in what I was reading before I realized what it was. I (or Pierre) clicked on the link. Oh, what a great plan they had! The books were only $13 each, or $11.50 each if you took advantage of the annual rate and bought twelve book credits to be used throughout the year.

Any sensible reader would buy all twelve books at once.

Not only that, you could choose from five books each month, or skip the month entirely! No more forced mailing, just a simple click here and there, and voila. Your book(s) would arrive in the mail.

I clicked out. I closed the window and jumped to my feet, all the better to pace until my insurance agent finally picked up her extension.

Needless to say, these emails did not cease. I clicked on unsubscribe but they kept rolling in, relentless pleas to offer these fabulous books a place on my shelf.

It wasn’t the books’ fault they were homeless. Every book just wants to be loved, a shelf of its own, a reader to flutter its pages.

You can imagine what happened next. Pierre sensed my hesitation during my third salvo into the BOTMC den. He sensed my hesitation, and he pounced. He pounced and he forced my finger to click on that damn “Join Now” button and WHAM.

I now belong to the Book Of The Month Club.

And let me tell you, it’s wonderful, fabulous, dizzying. I’m not sorry. And yet, I miss those few virtuous weeks when I could honestly claim to purchase only used books. Those were good days, before dual addictions proved too great for this weak mortal.

I now have twenty books on my To-Be-Read shelf. Twenty-one if you count the non-fiction book about writing, but that’s a valuable educational resource. Two of the books are from  BOTMC and the rest are from a used bookstore. You know what that means: I have ten more pre-paid books whispering “buy me”. Their pre-paid status lends them an even greater cachet—I can acquire ten more books without additional cash outlay. A click here, a click there, and I’ll receive a lovely box of books delivered to my house.

I’ll draw this out, carefully selecting only one book each month. Yes, I will! I’ll partake of one tiny literary morsel each month, savoring my pre-paid tomes. I won’t squander even one book credit on a questionable book. I’ll research every offering before I choose. I won’t be click-happy, I won’t be starstruck by the books themselves, posing in their fabulous covers on my screen, stuffed with so much potential I want to reach out and buy them all, but I won’t!

No, I won’t do that.

I’ll control myself. Really, I will.