Confessions of a Book Hoarder

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I pride myself on being a prudent shopper. No, those fancy handbags and the glittery shoes are not for me, you Giant Consumer-baiting Corporation. I can enter a mall, an airport, or the famous shopping districts of the country and come out not a penny poorer; yes, I am that strong! Or a miser of the highest degree, as my husband likes to put it.

Yet. There has to be a ‘yet,’ isn’t it? Yet, something inside me gives away when I walk past a bookstore. It need not be a full-fledged affair; a street vendor with a pile of second hand/ pirated books spread out on a rag on the footpath gives me the same feels. Instinctively, I slow down. My neck turns around, craning to take a look for as long as I can. I have mastered the art of zoning out of any conversation that I might be having at the moment.

Ohh, the beauty of the volumes arranged one on top of the other, with their spines luring me to stop by and take a look. Ohh, those pristine covers, not a wrinkle, not a fold! The perfect alignment, the secure pages bound into the perfect rectangle the machine pressed them into. Don’t get me started on the hardbacks. They are the royalty, distinct from the paperback masses, glorious in their near-unaffordability. Needless to add, the general smell of the area gives me one of the best non-chemically-induced highs.

It helps if I am in a hurry, or with someone else. Rationality prevails, and I move on with a sunken heart. But if I happen to be by myself, the voices in my headgear up for the big debate. Should I stop by for a moment and take a look at the collection? I would only look, nothing else, pinky promise. Maybe sniff at some of them if nobody is looking. Ah! Have they got the next one by Ms. Famous Author? Hmm. It won’t hurt to see what the back cover says. Interesting. Ohh look, the book #1293839 of the endless series is out. I will have major FOMO if I don’t get to know what happens next. Gaaah! The price is too high; I should wait till the hoopla has died down, and the price comes down, like an in-season cauliflower. Humm. We should take a look at the cookery section. After all, a newbie cook needs her recipe books to line the shelves in the kitchen. Errm, I barely know mine saute from my blanch.

There is a significant discount in the kids’ section. I already have a kid, so what if he is less than six months old. He will grow up and need his share of coloring books (well, this one had started right when the bun was still in the oven!). Okay, one book from the classics-on-sale. That is it. It is a classic, and it is on sale. Darn those attractive small reads near the billing counter; they make me an offer I cannot refuse. The no-purchases deal changes into one-book-please, which morphs into okay-two-more until the final negotiation ends at i-can-not-carry-more-than-these-six. You get the drift, right?

Pretty soon, I waddle out of the store, balancing the weight of the multiple tomes in my hands. As I am stepping out, I feel triumphant at the real bargain I got the loot for. The next moment, the Scrooge in me who had been sulking in a corner speaks up. “You have spent Rs N, not just saved Rs n”. Uncle Scrooge is right as always. “Hakuna Matata! You are going to read these wonderful pieces of work and feel your brain expanding!” goes the excited, hopeful Pumba. “Are you? Going to read them, are you? Or onto the shelf, would they land?” Do I hate the bitterly rational and unnervingly correct Yoda inside my head!

I return home and get down to my second-favorite activity – arranging the books in the cupboard. There is an entire algorithm in place for book arrangement; it is not a task cut out for mere mortals. Primarily based on its genre, its date of purchase, and my inclination to read it, each book is designated to a particular shelf. There are further subdivisions. Based on how good a book would look to a visitor, and what impression it might create of me, a more ‘intellectual’ looking book acquires the glass shelves. The racy thrillers, the soppy romances, the frowned upon, yet bestselling ‘sins’ go into the deepest parts of the bottom-most layers. Every new purchase leads to a re-evaluation of the status of the existing books. I wonder if the books look at new arrivals with trepidation and apprehension about the possible change in their position in the hierarchy!

And there they rest…till the end of time.

A glimpse of one of the stashes!

Yes, I hardly ever pick up the books to read them. I used to be a voracious reader, prolific in my count. I used to finish the borrowed ones even faster, knowing that I did not have forever to finish the library books. Then came my disposable income. The graph of purchases started showing an upward trend, and so did the curve of unfinished volumes. The advent of smartphones and cheap internet was the final nail in the coffin. I always had one more funny cat video to watch. Today, this hoarding hobby of mine is aided and abetted by a husband who I beguile into buying books for me, by telling him tales of yore when I used to read. The poor chap has been happily supplying stuffings for his wife’s book cabinets.

Did I mention I am a big non-believer of lending books? I am proud to mention that a similar thought was shared by Charles Lamb when he had vented:

I mean your borrowers of books – those mutilators of collections, spoilers of the symmetry of shelves, and creators of odd volumes

One has to transcend many levels and be in my innermost circle to be able to borrow books from me. To everyone else, I give the most elaborate excuse. I think many around me have come to realize my stinginess. For those who still have not, or pretend not to, my choicest curses and abuses are reserved (by the voices inside the head, of course!)

Of late, the collection has been ripped apart and lies across geographies due to compulsions of adulting. The picture here is the one at my current location, with space constraints forcing me to place some of them in the back rows. Such is life, my friend. Such is life.

So yeah, here I am, standing in front of my beautiful, artsy cabinet, admiring my handiwork, every shelf labeled, each book marked with the date and place of purchase. It is easy to shut up Ms. Bookworm in me; Ms. OCD has had a field day. I notice I am running out of space in my cupboards. I should get more storage space, I tell myself, fishing out my phone to check out cabinets online (which I probably won’t even buy!)

Aastha Sneha Pathak is a full time mother. When not mothering or working as a railway officer, she loves to curl up with a book and a cup of coffee.

Featured Image Credits: Wikimedia

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