Thursday January 17, 2013

My chief addiction in life is books. I find it difficult to walk past a bookstore without popping in just to check on things: Maybe find out if any authors I’ve read, but don’t follow, have anything new out, see if there are interesting new covers or compilations of books I’ve read before, or flip through the graphic novels.

This is why online shopping will never replace the real thing for me. The smell of paper, being able to browse the actual pages, and not having to wait a week to read the book all outweigh the ability to tweet to all my friends that I just bought the book.

Since the relatively high cost of a new hardcover can shock me back to my senses, a used book store is like a siren’s song that leads to a Pandora’s box filled with forbidden fruit. Thus I can eagerly load up on the schlocky science fiction, Medieval siege craft, and esoteric history that I crave for just under the cost of their paper.

Like most primates, I find it difficult to pass up on a good deal, even if it’s something I don’t, strictly speaking, need.

It’s also difficult to refuse something that might be exclusive. So I often find myself buying cheap books on principle.

"Where else am I going to find a listing of all the printers operating in Ireland in the 17th century for less than $10 dollars?" I’ll wonder.

I’m fairly certain I will never read all the books that I own, even if that only includes the ones that I deliberately bought for myself, but still that won’t stop me from acquiring more.


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More than wanting to actually read all of them I want to have the option to read any of them. I could buy a new book when I finish an old one, like a chump, but I think it’s better to have a few on hand ready to go so that I never have to go more than a few minutes before I can read something else.

It’s sort of like buying groceries. Sure you could just buy food every time you get hungry, but isn’t it better to keep a fridge stocked?

It’s also why I tend to, when possible, buy an entire series at a time. Sure I may never have read the author before, but I’d rather take a chance on being stuck with a stack of mediocre books than being unable to find the rest of the series if it turns out to be good. Besides, any books I don’t read can go into my next project, a bookshelf made of other, less-interesting, books.

I’ve been doing more writing lately, so I’ve needed to go book-hunting for research materials. The Internet is great for broader subjects, but if you need to know what stood on a specific street corner in the year your character turns by it or the yearly earnings of a particular English lord. a book is really the only way to go.

As such I’ve been going further and further afield looking for the insanely particular knowledge I need to make sure that my works are as historically accurate as possible down to the most inconsequential details. That is, assuming you ignore all the wizards.

Most of our Berkshire County bookstores are presently congregated in South County, though I seem to remember a time when bookstores roamed wild and free, both in the Berkshires and elsewhere. But like winters where the snow wasn’t delivered in bimonthly apocalypse storms, that seems to be a relic of the past.

Thus my girlfriend and I make a semi-annual pilgrimage to Manhattan to visit the Strand, the colossal used-book store just off of Union Square.

Perhaps pilgrimage is the wrong term. That doesn’t imply enough hauling back loot.

Expedition? Raid? Plunder?

We stagger out of bed before dawn and drive to the Metro North line so we can spend all day among the shelves. We sift through them one book at a time like prospectors panning for gold.

At the end of the day, legs and backs aching, we stagger home again loaded down with the day’s catch, enough to hold us over for a little while.

One fun element to any such trip is the little ways in which the Berkshires follow us there. During our last voyage, we overheard the following gem from two women sitting near us on the subway.

"You went to Williams, right? So that’s like in Boston."

"Well, it’s not exactly in Boston. It’s like two and half hours away."

"But still, pretty close."

Write to Sean McHugh at readers@berkshireeagle.com.