Sometimes I wish I didn’t know how to read.
No. That’s not true at all. I am endlessly grateful that I can read, and I wish everyone in the world had that privilege.
What I should have said is that I wish I weren’t addicted to books.
No. That’s not quite it, either. I wish I weren’t addicted to owning books.
Try as I might to kick the habit, the darned things keep accumulating all around me.
I can’t even recall the last time I actually bought a new book. Who’s rich enough for that nowadays? And still they proliferate, like that human-ingesting plant in The Little Shop of Horrors.
I’ve tried dozens of strategies to keep them under control. I’ve given them to friends, sold them at yard sales, donated them to charities, taken them by the bushel-load to used-book stores. I’ve lent them to people I secretly hoped would forget to return them.
It helps that I live in a vast Edwardian mansion with rooms full of floor-to-ceiling bookcases. Not.
I live in a humble Riverdale suite, surrounded almost to the point of suffocation by neatly-packed and stacked boxes of books. Boxes that have, for the most part, remained sealed and stored for years. Decades even.
Eight of those boxes, plus a melamine-painted door, comprise my desk-cum-dining table.
Their contents have largely lain unseen, unopened and ignored since they were first devoured so eagerly in some far-ago era. As far ago as 1947, the year Granny gave me Slappy the Duck for Christmas.
Is there a word to describe those contents? A low-rent psychologist could likely find a better one, but eclectic comes close.
Everything from the Confessions of St. Augustine to Confessions of a Mangy Lover, by Groucho Marx.
I wish I were kidding, but I Kid You Not (yes, I even have one by that title, the memoirs of talk-show pioneer Jack Paar).
There are lashings of Canadian history, biography, autobiography – from Gen. Andrew McNaughton through Judy LaMarsh to John Crosbie and beyond.
There’s dry-as-dust Plutarch in the same box as Elmore Leonard. There’s P.D. James and Dick Francis, Graham Greene, Peggy Atwood and … and on it goes.
Then, there is the Encylopedia. The cherished Britannica, circa 1974. Macropedia, Micropedia, the full meal deal.
How many nights have I spent curled in Britannica’s embrace, savouring her thin white pages, her wellsprings of knowledge, with a sensuous delight her emaciated cousin Google could never invoke?
(Ah, books. Printed books. If you ever catch me Kindling, shoot me, please.)
Alas, it is time to take leave of Britannica. The boxes in which she slumbers without me have become too heavy a burden. She deserves a better home.
But there’s the rub. The used-book store won’t take her. The Salvation Army isn’t interested. Even the kindly folks at Raven Recycling would run me off the premises if I tried to abandon her in the Free Store.
Yet, I can’t toss her on the rubbish tip – neither she nor any other book.
I could take most of them to my favourite repository for well-loved books, and add to my existing credit of a few hundred dollars. Credit for more books, of course.
Which leads me to where I began.
My name is Ken, and I’m an addict.
There, I’ve taken the first step. I’ve admitted my powerlessness. Now I need your help.
It’s Christmas, and I’m in a giveaway mood. Could you, would you, help rid me of several hundred books in the next few weeks?
Anyone who emails me ( email@example.com) is welcome to pick five free books – maybe ten, if I decide to haggle.
And whoever guarantees to provide Britannica a good home can take an extra 25 books of their choosing.
Just don’t ask me to part with Slappy the Duck.