I love libraries. And bookshops. They’re my haven, a place I go to when in need of some quite time, inspiration, or escape. Whenever I go to the library I can’t leave without taking at least three new books home with me. If I’m not reading at least two books at once I begin to worry, and if I don’t have a few books in reserve panic sets in.
Even if I’m just dropping off a book, I feel compelled to do a quick drive by the shelves of my favourite authors. Equally, I can’t walk past a bookshop without ducking in and checking out the new best sellers. The pop up stores in shopping malls are not safe either, especially after I found the latest book from one of my favourite authors, Simon Toyne, tucked away on a display table in a newsagent. The price? $1.99! I was in book heaven.
And I love nothing better than a good book and sugary sweet tart or bun with a cup of tea. In fact, I’ve been secretly addicted to sugar for many years, a habit I’ve found hard to break. But when I read that sugar isn’t good for us and even worse, it could be linked to Alzheimer’s, I knew I had to stop. A terrifying thought – both about getting Alzheimer’s and having to give up sugar. As a compromise, I cut down on my favourite Mars bars and biscuits and stay away from the lollie and sweets aisle in the supermarket.
Parting with sugar has been hard but harder still was filling the gap in my emotional life. But fill it I did. By increasing the number of books I got out of the library and the number of times I charged into bookshops to get a fix. What a wonderful feeling, that rush of pleasure, in being surround by books just waiting to be opened and consumed. Just like being in a lollie shop.
Then I had another terrifying thought. What if I was frying my brain with too much reading? Could this really happen? Filling it with entertaining, well written fiction that provides a few hours of escapism but doesn’t really add to my intellectual grunt?
I frantically searched my memory for times when I might have put myself at risk. Then I remembered. The library of Trinity College in Dublin. I went there to see the Book of Kells and my, what an experience. The sheer scale and size of the library, the overwhelming number of old, ancient and august tomes it housed. The towering rows of volume upon volume of some of the greatest books every written by mankind just waiting to be climbed. I stood there in awe, stupefied by the magnificence around me. The feeling was one of pure joy, a profound pleasure that left me in a sugar-like coma for days.
Seriously worried, I felt I had to make some major life changes. Like not going to the library so often, cutting back to one visit a week (not counting dropping off books). Only reading two books a week instead of three. Changing my diet from all fiction to include some edifying, brain-nourishing matter from the non-fiction shelves. All of this was tough but walking past a bookshop without going in proved the hardest thing to do.
Then I read somewhere that if you’re a wannabe author like myself that reading often and widely is the best thing I could, and should, do. It’s called research. Imagine my relief at finding out that what I was doing was not bad for me but something I should, in fact, be doing, and doing more of! That obsessing about what book to read next is OK and making a detour to visit that new bookshop up the road has a legitimate purpose.
Now I can go back to guilt-free reading, safe in the knowledge that what I’m doing is not harmful to my body or brain, comforted by the thought that greater minds than mine know what they’re on about and there’s no such thing as too much research.
I hope this missive has helped other conflicted book addicts but I’ve got to go now. The library’s about to open.