Why do I have so many books? No, seriously, I want to know. I’ve been giving this a lot of thought recently and I have to say I’m not exactly sure.
Not only do I have shelf after shelf of books, most of them are unread. I gave up buying fiction in a physical format a few years ago because it was frankly embarrassing how many were sitting there, waiting to be read, looking so forlorn and unloved. My kindle app is so full of books it’s hard to find the one I’m looking for. Virtual books can be hidden away where no one will see them and tut at my addiction.
As a scanner I have so many interests and several non-fiction books on each one. My shelves are filled with tomes on 19th century asylums, the plague, witchcraft, writing craft, cross stitch, symbolism, mythology, Glasgow, history, maps… I could go on.
When I was little I didn’t have many books at all. We didn’t have a lot of money but I always got books for Christmas and birthdays and I saved my pocket money, one shilling a week, to buy new titles. I have a very clear memory of going to buy a new book, finding one I liked, and not having enough money to buy it. I had to put it back and that was awful. I wasn’t allowed to go to the library to borrow books because my mum believed then to be dirty and full of germs, so I was always undernourished in literature.
I should make clear here how much books meant to me. I was bullied remorselessly at school. I’ve spoken about it before here and here. I was an only child, different, and with no friends. I learned to read when I was three and was always several reading books ahead of the rest of my class. My friends were the Famous Five, the Secret Seven, the World’s Naughtiest Schoolgirl and Heidi. So not having access to their stories was almost like being in solitary confinement. I was dreadfully lonely.
Let’s move forward a few years to my teens when the bullying made me feel totally unattractive and never, ever likely to have anyone fall in love with me. I felt ugly and worthless. But I knew I was fairly smart: I won prizes every year, was always top of the class and my brain soon became the only thing I had that I believed to be worth anything.
Now I am grown, married to my George and mother to Claire. You’d think I would be able to leave the past behind since I have everything I once thought would be denied to me. But… perhaps I am carrying the past with me still; does it look over my shoulder in Waterstones, lean on my fingers when I browse Amazon? Perhaps my book habit is just me, still looking for tangible proof that I’m worth something, and collecting new friends so that I need never feel lonely again.
Or maybe I just like books.