I am tortured by my books. This is not an uncommon feeling to have. Many people buy books they wish they were reading and then do not read them. Other people are tortured by the obsessive need to repurpose books. Like David Bouley turning books into bricks.
I do not have those particular forms of book torture. I have others.
My first book torture was that I was a latchkey kid in the extreme sense. Like, my parents came home at 8pm and my brother and I used taxi cabs and store credit largely unsupervised. It was hard to get their attention for anything that did not involve physical or mental abuse, but one thing they were always up for was a book recommendation. So I read what they told me to read.
My mom recommended So Big, by Edna Ferber. It’s about how money doesn’t matter because only love matters. Which was incomprehensible to a young girl whose parents gave only money.
My torture just went on like that until I got to be old enough to choose my own books.
It was torture living in a family of book collectors and feeling a need to own every book I read. So I stole them. I stole books from our family bookstore. Maybe 500 in all. My grandma owned the store, and all the employees knew but no one told my grandma, probably because she wouldn’t believe them.
Then I moved to Los Angeles to play professional beach volleyball. I had no money. I slept on the floor of a studio apartment with no kitchen. I had no clothes except for those that I wore to the beach. I used the last dollars I had to ship my books to my apartment. My parents visited, saw that I had no bed, no kitchen and no clothes, and then went home and sent me a package.
Of books. My dad had inherited my great grandfather’s book collection, and the part he sent to me was the pornography.
This was after he had apologized for sexually abusing me.
“Dad, you sent me the pornography collection.”
“I know,” he said, “I thought, of everyone in the family, you’re the one who would like it best. ”
And, while I was at it, I sold all the first editions I had from my collection of stolen books.
Still, I probably have about 1000 books in the house today. Which is not very many if you grow up in a family that thinks the size of their book collection reflects the size of their IQ.
But now I have this blog that’s great for selling books. So publishers send me books. So many books that I often open the package, look at it, and throw it in the trash.
But then I noticed some of my garbage pile was showing up on Matthew’s nightstand.
“Put that in the garbage,” I told him.
“I took it out. I want to read it.”
“No. It’s my book. And I want it in the garbage.”
“I’ll throw it out when I’m done.”
“Fine. How long until you’re done?”
“I don’t want book accumulation.”
We made a deal that he can take books out of the trash if he puts them back within a week.
But he started finding good books. For example, Matthew liked The Time Warrior, by Steve Chandler.
“Why are you reading that?” I said.
“Because he says just do one thing. That’s his mantra. I love that.”
I noticed that he was so pleased with his pile of exonerated books on his nightstand.
So I tried it. I put Senia Maymin’s book there: Profit from the Positive. She’s a friend, and she has taught me so much about learning to be happy. And she specializes is using positive psychology in business, so how could I not read that book?
The other book on my nightstand is Dan Schawbel’s Promote Yourself. I put it there because Dan is a friend and my favorite critic of the book industry. You know someone’s really passionate about hating the book industry when the only place you can read about him hating it is on my blog. His hatred is too lethal for his own audience.
Matthew said, “Is that Dan the guy you’re doing your salary negotiation webinar with?”
“Yeah. How do you know him?”
“Because I hear you apologizing every week that you are postponing the webinar another week. Can I see his book?”
So Matthew is learning how to promote the brand of Matthew.
And I am learning how to make piles of books. I have been more generous about what I keep. Noa Kagayama recommended that I read The Sports Gene. He says it will appeal to my obsession with excellence. The old me would have read the New York Times book review and called it a day. But I bought the book and put it in my new reading pile.
Matthew has noticed my piles of books around the house. And this is my last form of book torture, actually. Because I want to control what books he has in the house, because his books are clutter. But I like my own piles of books. The inequities of marriage are torture, and trying to justify them to ourselves is even worse.
“Are you upset about my piles of books?” I ask him. “I know it’s not fair.”
He says, “They remind me of those piles of stones Koreans make so that they get good luck. Cairns. I think that’s the name. It’s a statement of hope. I’m happy for you.”