Free Books – A confession with a happy ending

stewart library

I know I have a problem.

Everyone knows I have a problem.

It’s kind of hard to hide.

The moment you step inside my house, it’s obvious. The books are everywhere. They don’t confine themselves to the bookshelves. I suppose that would be impossible since the shelves are packed tighter than Depression Era tenements. There are piles of books on my desk, my daughter’s desk, the bedside table, the kitchen table, the dining room table, and the lamp table in the living room. Pretty much any flat surface in the house is game, including the floor.

The floor is where my latest arrivals are currently huddled – a half dozen paperback volumes of varying size and genre. When I got them home yesterday I realized that there wasn’t anywhere to put them. I stood in the middle of my house, cradling my finds in the crook of my arm while I scanned all the usual landing spots, but found that they were all full to capacity. With a beleaguered sigh and a silent apology to the books, I tucked the small stack gently into the corner between my desk and a tower of plastic file boxes (which was already topped with my collection of Poets & Writers magazines).

I didn’t mean to come home with more books.

My daughter and I were enjoying an easy-breezy afternoon of window-shopping in Newburyport. We were wandering through shops filled with dresses, antiques, jewelry, and other unnecessary items. It was all perfectly harmless.

And then we reached the corner bookstore.

I was surprised when my daughter led the way through the welcoming open doors. I’d figured she’d breeze right past. But, no – she stepped purposefully over the threshold and began browsing the staff picks. I followed eagerly and, once I’d managed to pry my eyes away from the first few books that grabbed my attention, realized that the store was in quite a state of disarray. Turns out, the whole place was being reorganized and restocked in preparation for a major renovation that would include the addition of a café.

Despite the general chaos, there was still plenty to explore. I poked around in the almost empty young adult section and found a paperback copy of the 30th anniversary edition of On Writing Well. Though I have many (many) other books on the writing craft – I talked myself into buying “just one more” and took my selection up to the register.

But, you probably want to know how one book turned into six.

Well, it happened like this. After enrolling me in the store’s frequent buyer program and ringing up my purchase, the bookseller called out to his colleague, “I’m just going to take a picture of the free book frenzy out front. Dad gets a kick out of these things.”

Free books?

I whipped around and immediately located the melee – a group of otherwise innocent passersby were pawing aggressively through several boxes of free books that were sitting on the sidewalk just outside the door.

Had those been there when we’d walked in? How did I miss them?

I dashed towards the mostly courteous free-for-all, grabbing my daughter on the way out. Free books! What a find! What luck! A small voice in my head admonished that I had enough books already – more than enough – but a louder voice argued that it was fate and I shouldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth and … and … FREE BOOKS!

The louder voice won out and soon I was scrabbling through the boxes’ contents alongside my fellow bibliophiles. Behind me, my daughter groaned dramatically, “Mom, really?” But I was too far gone. I didn’t even turn around.

It all happened so fast. I entered a sort of altered state, quickly sifting through the hodge-podge collection of remainders and advance reader copies. The covers passed before me in a psychedelic parade of conceptual images and tempting titles – an exotic feast of heretofore-unknown treasures. I skimmed back cover blurbs with such speed that you would have thought I was trying to beat the countdown on a ticking time bomb. Around me, the other book lovers jostled gently for position, queuing up in random patterns around the cluster of cardboard boxes like hungry sparrows at a backyard feeder.

I reached for a book with a particularly promising cover, but a hand flashed between me and my prey and scooped the title up before I even had a chance to properly identify it. For a brief moment a wave of indignation rose up in my booksick heart, but then I saw whose hand it was. My daughter grinned at me and clutched her prize with great satisfaction. I had to smile. For all her grumbling, here she was, proving that the love of books may in fact (thank the gods) be hereditary.

It’s not that I want to encourage any addictive behavior in my daughter, but – if she must be addicted to anything or have too much of something in her life – I am happy to think that that something might be books. After all, I’ve suffered this affliction all my life, and I’ve turned out all right.
Image Credit: From The Library (affiliate link) by Sarah Stewart, illustrated by David Small

47 thoughts on “Free Books – A confession with a happy ending

    • Ahh yes – the painful reality that comes with a move.

      I have moved three times in the last five years. Each time, my collection is whittled down a bit more. It’s a painful process, but the good news is that my incurable addiction guarantees that I’ll never lack for books.

  1. Wikipedia describes addiction as ‘the repetition of a behaviour despite adverse consequences.’ Perhaps you should call it something else? If you find the right term for it, do let me know. Regards from a fellow addict.

    • I suppose the adverse consequence is having a house that is cluttered with books … though, that could also be seen as a positive consequence. Perhaps it’s more like an obsession or a habit.

    • I’m right with you, Julie.
      I use my Kindle mostly as a sampling device. I am getting better about sticking with digital books, but I still always want (and often buy) hard copy versions of my favorite books. AND … when there are free books right in front of me … well, forget it. All bets are off! 😉

  2. I have recently returned from holiday and having finished a couple of books I realized I had left the rest at home. So I had to look at the books that others had left behind. I saw the joy of many books there in front of me. However as I looked closer the vast majority of the books were romantic novels, a genre i have on occasions tried and failed to read. I tried one, but after one hundred pages I had still no interest, then went for another and still no joy. I had to read something so did in fact choose one but reading a book you do not connect to is an awful experience. Happily I am back home and enjoying my books once more.

    • For a lover of books, the horror of being stuck with a story you don’t love is very real. When there’s no connection it’s like being forced to engage in meaningless small talk forever. You know it’s going nowhere, but you just can’t walk away. Yuk.

      Thank goodness you’re back home with your own books!

  3. Reblogged this on aimeese and commented:
    I think everybody has problems. There is fine line between crazy or non crazy. Maybe I missed something? Why is it obvious when somebody walks in your house because I’m probably not to far behind you sister! I can not organize its something that I have worked on all my life ,all my husband does is just shake his head and say smart remarks,but I swear I do try my best!

    • The funny thing is, I’m actually an extremely organized person. It’s just this one compulsion that is my Achille’s heel. Personally, I don’t REALLY think I’m crazy. To me, a home filled to overflowing with books is a Good Thing. BUT … if I look at the piles of books with a fresh eye, they are a bit much and I can see how a non-afflicted person might not “get it” … at least not right away. 😉

  4. I still have way too many books (at least according to other members of my household), but my kindle has prevented a fire hazard and book hoarding, to some degree. I love the portability of the kindle, but nothing can replace the feel and the smell of a good book. I feel your pain 🙂

    • I know what you mean. Kindles rule for instant access and portability, but they can’t touch the romance of a real paper and ink book. 🙂

  5. I don’t understand when my husband says I have too many books. It’s like claiming there’s too much air! He suggests I get rid of a few, but how is one supposed to build a library by getting rid of books? My dream home would be a library with a bed and an en suite 🙂

    He would mind less if I wasn’t also a crafter with a growing stash of yarn, fabric, etc…. and a collector of antique clothes….

    • I LOVE the idea of living in a library! That sounds divine. I also love “… too many books is like claiming there’s too much air.” So very true. So very true. 🙂

    • Really lovely. Thank you for sharing. I’m not sure I’m ready for that, but you have definitely inspired some thoughtful exploration of the idea. 🙂

      • Thanks Jamie 🙂 I am glad if its seeded the thought for you as it has really brought me a lot of joy and freedom and I wish others the same.

        But all in good time. My books were my most treasured possessions at one time. I can well understand.

        Thanks for stopping by 🙂

  6. Boy do I know what you mean! I can’t pass up free books. Ever. No WAY. I have books everywhere as well and I have a dream of one day having an entire room for them. Sigh. A whole ROOM!

    • Some women dream of walk-in closets or garage-sized pantries. Me? I dream, like you, of a house-sized library. 😉

  7. You essentially described my life here. I’m known far and wide as the girl who has WAY too many books. And I don’t even care. I don’t care that my three bookshelves are full and that my books have overflowed to the floor next to the shelving units. Or that my recent haul from my grandfather’s home is still in boxes. Or that, while my work accumulates books, I can’t help but find one or two I “need to have” and add them to the files. Adding insult to injury, I then proceed to visit the library. There’s no such thing as too many, I say. I loved this and related so much. Free books? Who would say no??

    • You’re in good company here. 🙂

      I don’t trust a person who doesn’t have books in their home. It’s true – I judge people by their books (or, lack thereof).

      You’re right. You can never have too many!

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