Geek With (Lots of) Books: The First Step is to Admit You Have a Problem

[Editors Note: SF Signal welcomes author and self-proclaimed bookaholic Scott A. Cupp in his new column, Geeks with (Lots of) Books, where he will dispense stories of his (some say crazed) love affair with all things bookish. Welcome, Scott!]

Hi, my name is Scott and I am a bookaholic. Chances are you are too.

It’s been two years since I last sold my collection. It’s been a tough two years. I mean, one day I’m sitting here looking at a complete collection of Philip K. Dick novels and stories, and the next day – zip! Nada! All gone. I watched as 19,000 volumes walked out the door. It took 10 trained packers over 6 hours to just pack them up. I wondered if I would ever miss them, where they would go, what families would have them to hold and cherish, would they love them the same way I did? It was devastating.


The decision to sell them came hard. I had spent 35 years amassing the collection. Books were my life. But, I was living in a 1,700 square foot condo with a wife and a cat and 32 bookcases and assorted stacks of titles on the floor. In the “book room” there were 12 bookcases (three for paperbacks and nine for hardbacks); all full as well as somewhere between 20 and 30 stacks of books on the floor, each stack four to five feet high. There were books in boxes. It had gotten to the point that I was no longer quite sure what I had. I had a good idea. For major authors and award winners I pretty well knew exactly what I had, but other stuff, I would have an idea but maybe not know for sure. Going through the stacks to show to the potential buyers, I found several titles that I had as many as four copies of when I thought I might have maybe one.

And there were the collections. A lot of them. I found that I was buying books just to keep some collections going. Some of these were books I had no interest in reading, but, because I had the collection, I had to have them. And some collections, like my Gold Medal paperbacks, took on a life of their own. I was collecting Gold Medal paperbacks under #2000. This was slightly over 1900 volumes. I had about half. And they were great books! Lots of mystery and western titles. A little science fiction. Books by the demi0gods such as John D. MacDonald, Charles Williams, Peter Rabe, David Goodis, Cornell Woolrich, Jim Thompson, Harry Whittington, Stephen Marlowe, and Donald B. Hamilton. These were my literary gods! But, Gold Medal would reprint frequently and often, when they reprinted, they changed the book number. None of the contents, just the number. And the price. This particularly happened when they brought out a new title in a series and decided to reissue the earlier titles. I had probably five copies of DEATH OF A CITIZEN, the first Matt Helm book by Donald B. Hamilton. This is a great spy novel, I read it. Twice. But I did not need five copies. I would go to a bookstore, spend $100 and not get anything I really wanted to read.

Obviously, this activity was an obsessive compulsive dream. I had lots of good books I wanted to read and I sent them away. I had given them a good home but it was time to set them free and let others enjoy them in the way that I no longer could. Some of them are still on the shelves here. Even though it has been two years. The bookstore was very happy to make the deal. They made their money back in decent time and still had lots of fine titles to put out. I periodically buy a few back. I have rules. It has to be book I plan to read. I may never get there but I do intend to read it. And the price has to be really quite good. Recently I bought back a handful of singed hardcover first editions by Michael Bishop, John Kessel and Terry Bisson. Great things. They were all $3 or less and I had a 15% discount coupon. Again, I had to convince myself I would read them again. I like these writers and I knew I was giving these books a very good home.

I sometimes wonder about the others. Where did they go, are they well treated. Some of my friends have purchased volumes that they knew where mine. I’m glad of that. I can still visit if I need to. But I don’t.

I kept about 1000 titles, works by very close friends or something I had just recently purchased. Those titles have multiplied. I went to a convention the other day and could not find one title I know I have. Never did find out and I was going to get it autographed. Bought it again. Old habits die hard. I have fewer bookcases but some paperbacks are double stacked. And a few hardbacks are not shelved, rather they are stacked in front of others. I embrace my bookaholic nature again. There will not be a mass purging for a while. I hope.

19 thoughts on “Geek With (Lots of) Books: The First Step is to Admit You Have a Problem”

  1. You know you are making a case for ebooks. Too many loose ends still in ebook world, but may be our grandchildren will not have to do such disposals?

  2. I don’t know.  Google books recently ran a contest to describe what reading would be like in 50 years (or some such time frame).  One response I gave was that it would be no different.  People would learn in a variety of fashions and would read in an equally large number of ways.  Reading for learning is different from reading for pleasure.  When I read for pleasure I have done both e-book and paper book.  I infinitely prefer paper.  I can hold it and feel it and love it and pet it and call if George.  But that’s just me.

  3. I agree with Tinkoo – ebooks are the way to go. After having to relocate 5 times

    so far because of my husband’s job, it’s great to pack up my books via one

    laptop instead of multiple heavy boxes. More and more of even the old titles

    are becoming available on ebooks – some are even available for free. And when

    I travel, I can take my entire collection with me. Try doing that with paper books.

  4. I have a lot of books and while I intend on reading all of them, I know I never will.

    I use librarything to keep track of everything. It’s extremely helpful.

  5. At first, I thought this was a story about John. Then I though, someone needs to send this John’s wife.

    And for a small fee, John, I can make sure that doesn’t happen…from me.

     

    :)

  6. @Cheryl – why would I want my entire book collection with me when I travel?  Just honestly curious.  I don’t see the use of that necessarily.  Have you found yourself searching through previously read books?  Or going back and referring to them?  I certainly would like to take the collection of books I haven’t read with me so I can read them, but I don’t know that I need the already read books?

    @Scott – On my most recent annual summer vacation trip I saw lots of people using Kindle’s rather than carry those physical books.  One big comment from people was how surprised they were at how much they enjoyed reading on the Kindle versus regular paperbacks.  I was able to check one out (the big DX) and while I found the thing too heavy I will agree the text looks fantastic. 

    I like physical books too, but not so much when I’m carrying 4 or 5 of them in my carryon bag for a trip from the US to India.

  7. I recently moved from Oklahoma to New Mexico.  The most daunting thing to comtemplate while packing was more than 1800 books, hardbacks and paperbacks.  Like most bookaholics, I’d amassed that collection over many years.  Often going to book fairs and the discount tables at B&N, Hastings, and Borders, picking out books that looked interesting, I’d read one day, and there was an empty space or two on my shelves.  I had built-in bookcases, 3 bookcases in the living room, 1 in the bedroom, and stacks of books all over the house.

    They cost money to ship, I told myself.  Reluctantly, painfully, I began going through them, selecting odd ones here and there to get rid of.  About 50-100 gone immediately, books I knew I’d never read.  In the end I got rid of 300.  I’m still getting rid of books here in New Mexico, and have my count down to about 1200.

    No one will ever collect books in the same way on Kindle or other e-books.  It’s not only the pages, the words, that entice.  It’s the dustjacket art, the feel of a quality book, the lightness of the old paperbacks, the sensory experience of holding and reading a real book.  If I plan to read and discard a book, I can take it to the used book store and get credit — so I can buy more books.  You can’t do that electronically.

  8. I donated 30,000 paperbacks to SUNY at Buffalo so I can relate to your feelings, Scott.  It’s tough to assemble a vast collection and then give it up.  But, as you found out, collections have a way of growing out of control.  In the years since my donation (1995), I still bought books.  The Gold Medals and ACE Doubles are hard to find, and when you find them they’re pricey.  I still like to search used bookstores, though they’re disappearing at an alarming rate because of the Internet.

  9. As a fellow bookaholic, I can relate to everything in this piece, but for one: I can’t imagine how in the world you actually got yourself to go through with selling off the collection.  I think that within about ten minutes of a bookseller beginning to go through my shelves, I’d be screaming “GET OUT!!! DON’T TOUCH THAT!!! LEAVE MY PRECIOUSSSSS ALONE….!!!”

    Shelly wishes I had your kind of gumption.

    Rusty

     

  10. …and I thought I had a problem with about 130 books to read.

    One way of increasing how many books you can get through is to listen to audio books while your doing something else (walks, gardening, cleaning etc).  That’s what I do, so I now always have two books on the go at any one time, one paper, one audio.

    I’m excited about ebooks but I haven’t got an ebook reader yet as I still think there is a way to go before we get the “ipod of books”. They need to be cheaper and DRM can be a problem. Maybe in a couple of years….

     

  11. My name is Dino and I’m a bookaholic. I own about 2000 books, both hardcover and paperback. Most of my books are SF. I love the feel of a brand new book, and I love to read. Most of my books are bought from the local libraries around town (Los Angeles), Goodwills, Salvation Armies. Most libraries have used book stores with great deals. I have become very selective. They need to look brand new and be from a popular author or something I would want to read. I also buy lots of childrens books. Most of these books are bought for fifty cents to one dollar. I have made some great finds. I can’t tell you how many books I have bought for fifty cents that are worth $40.00 or more (dozens not hundreds). When I retire I want to open a used book store. I believe that as kindle type devices become more popular, eventually replacing paper books, brand new hardcovers will become huge collectors items. People will always have bookcases decorating thier homes.

  12. Thanks for all the comments. Rusty – I will admit it was tough to actually watch them pack the things up. Up to that point, it might have been a dream. But (and this was a big BUT) when they handed me the check for the purchase and I suddenly found myself totally out of debt (except for the condo)and able to put a huge chunk of money into my retirement, I felt good. Having the books on the shelf is wonderful. Even better is the hunt and the finding, though. Over the years I found amazing stuff – a first edition of PHANTOM LADY in dj, a copy of THE YELLOW WALLPAPER which I later traded for a first edition MARTIAN CHRONICLES,and a ton of signed books. In a near future column I will be talking about the hunt for things and the love of bookstores. George – I have heard wondrous stories of that collection at SUNY. Do you still get to go by and visit your favorites and ask how they have been, who they’ve seen, what its like in the academic world?

  13. Hey Scott ~ I’ve found memories of your place packed in every way possible with books, always thought they made one heck of a good insulation up against every wall like that. I’m having a hard time visualizing your place bookless. (And having 1,000 books may not sound “bookless”, until you put it up against the original 20,000!) But, have a math question for you: if your home measures up at 1,700 sq ft, did you ever figure out the footprint of all those shelf units and stacks of books, and figure how much of the square footage you gave over to books, and have now gotten back? No more turning sideways to walk down halls and such? Also, back to the insulation factor, have you noticed your heating/cooling bills changed drastically? Maybe we’re all overlooking a very positive aspect of these piles of books in our homes!

  14. After lugging massive stacks of books and vinyl LPs through about 10 moves in the course of a decade I found that I’d whittled all of this down considerably. In the case of books, I’ve found that the public library and used bookstores that will buy stuff back when I’m done with it are now a very attractive prospect.

  15. A partial documentation of my own bibliomania (including a few of Scott’s old books that managed to find their way into my collection) can be found here:

    http://home.roadrunner.com/~lperson1/lib.html

    And also here:

    http://picasaweb.google.com/LawrencePerson/LawrencePersonSLibrary#

    I have about 5,000 volumes, the majority of them science fiction first edition hardbacks. And instead of selling them like Scott, I bought a house so I would have a place to put them. Home is wher the library is…

  16. I’m a bookaholic, have been for 40+ years, and I refuse to give up my books.  I’ve dedicated my life to physical books and I’ll likely buy and sell books til I die.  I opened by bookstore nearly 33 years ago as an off-shoot to my collecting.  The for about ten years my collecting slowed a great deal since I couldn’t afford to keep one of everything.  Then I bought a house and the collecting took off again.  Books, magazines, toys and “stuff”, I have to have it all.  I’m fiercely proud of my collection and it just makes me happy being surrounded by the things I love.

     

  17. I knew I had a problem (and admitted it) when I was standing in one of my favorite used book stores with a $2 copy of Dhalgren in my hand. It (the book) smelled like pee. And I was actually thinking it might be a good deal. It took me 20 minutes to talk myself out of it.

    I resolved to buy no books in 2009…and made it to January 3, though the book I bought was a dictionary. (Does that count? I think it does, since it takes up space on the bookshelf.)

    I research used book stores in the areas I travel on business and try to plan my work / travel itinerary to leave 2-3 hours for book shopping. (Don’t tell my boss.) (Scratch that; my boss is aware of my problem.)

    I promised my brother I’d ship him some good titles I’d read recently. Knowing I’ll never get them back from him has prevented me from making good.

    My name is Savant and I am a bookoholic. I bought my last book two weeks ago and, like Scott mentioned, it was purely to keep up with a series I am at least 5 books behind on.

    We are a sad lot. (Sad, but well-read, dammit!!!)

    Books are (not) dead. Long live books.

  18. Three immediate thoughts, in no particular order: (a) don’t let my wife see this; (b) Ghod, that must have been hard; and (c) Hello, my name is Guy and I’m a bookaholic.

    I’ve loved books and reading as long as I can remember, with some of my earliest childhood memories involving sitting with an adult, looking at books and being read to. I can honestly say that the seed of my current career as a research scientist was planted by the wonders in the Golden Book of Natural History. To this day, I cannot make a quick trip into a book store — used or new — to just pick something up; even if I don’t buy anything, I need to browse for a while. When my son moved out of the house he left behind some books he wanted me to take to the local Half Price Books to sell — and I had to pick through them first, not believing he really wanted to get rid of this, or that, … and certainly not that!

    Great first column, Scott, and I look forward to more.

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