My Dysfunctional Relationship with Library Books

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I adore libraries. I love them so much. They are my happy place, and I have a not-so-secret but currently-impractical-as-fuck desire to be a librarian. (Impractical because, um, yeah, don’t have money to go back to school for a COMPLETELY NEW SET OF SKILLS.)

I love to go to the library and browse books. The shelves are full of possibility for me, even when the SFF section is severely lacking (as it often is, where I’ve lived — why would we have book ONE in a series anywhere in our system? MADNESS — here, have books #6-9, they’re much better. I jest, only partly). The library is about so much more than the tried and true SFF for me — it’s about exploration, finding something new.

Several somethings new.

Every time I go to the library for one book I invariably come home with a bag that is BULGING with them. My library book bag is a good size; it’s canvas, from the Questionable Content store on Topataco. It carries a good number of books — it carries the amount of books I will actually read in the time I have them out. Yet I always overfill it, sometimes carrying books in my arms, too.

At some point in my life, my reading skill went down. I used to be a fast reader with high comprehension. I am now a slow reader, with high comprehension only if I have enough energy — which is often not the case. I like to blame university for this change — you can often hear me lamenting that I used to be an avid reader before 10 years of academia broke me. That’s partially true; it took me a while to be emotionally ready to be a reader again.

I am emotionally ready now, and still my brain won’t cooperate.

Is it age? Is it the numerous head injuries I’ve suffered and no doubt brain damage I have, causing me to still lapse into aphasia when I’m tired? Which is all the time, so it’s just fucking word salad out of me 24/7. Thank the gods for writing, because that I can edit — not whatever bastard abortion of a sentence manages to slip out of my mouth in casual conversation.

I think it’s the head injuries, but it honestly doesn’t matter. The bottom line is, I am a slow reader now. I am a slow-ass reader and the library gives me like, 3 weeks before the first renewal. Yet my brain refuses to grasp this new reality; refuses to go ok, 2 books at a time, that is all you can handle you turtle, just 2 books and we’ll go back more often.

Going back? More often? But…that means leaving the house. And outside is where the people are. And we hates people, precious.

Yes, the library is my happy place, but it’s still full of people and that sends my anxiety sky-rocketing. As does the knowledge that some hellspawn of an attempt at conversation will slip out my mouth when I try to speak to the librarians upon check out. And the knowledge that even though there is a self-checkout, I won’t use it because I crave human contact; I stay shut up inside the house most of the time so when I finally lift the chains and let myself free, I turn into a rabid beast, desperate for any kind of conversation and frightening people with my cabin-feveresque ramblings.

Only a matter of time before I buy a soapbox and stand on the street corner, I’m telling you.

What a great space in which to ramble incoherently and embarrass myself.

What a great space in which to ramble incoherently and embarrass myself.

So I persist in getting too many damn books from the library, because I want to READ THEM ALL and the thought of coming back sooner than 3 renewals’ time is TERRIFYING. This is invariable; even if I succeed once in picking up only 2 books from the library, it will not be repeated until I finally crash and burn under this untenable system and have to stay away for a long while, feeling ashamed that I cannot read the books before returning them.

You would think this is bad enough, and it is, but it gets worse. You see, I have well over 1,000 books in my house (including my husband’s modest library that got added to my massive one when we moved in together; I think mine is around 80% of the household library, but he’s winning in the DVD and video game collection, so we’re even). Now, a lot of these books I’ve read, and a lot are reference books or art books or something that you don’t read cover to cover, you just keep around because they’re useful or beautiful and you need to page through them from time to time. Or they’re knitting or crafting books, or cookbooks. Which I guess are reference, technically, but I feel they should be mentioned specifically or their feelings might get hurt.

More of these books I have not read. I collect books, I accumulate them, all with the very noble purpose of reading them eventually. Sometimes ‘eventually’ is ‘within a month’. Sometimes it’s ‘well it’ll probably happen before I die’. And mostly this isn’t a problem, because simply being in a house absolutely full of books gives me great comfort and joy, and a deep sense of safety. I cannot imagine a hell more potent than a house with walls bare of bookshelves, or shelves bare of books. (And please note, to me, ‘bare of books’ includes shelves that have a small selection of books. Give me bursting bookshelves that make me fear for my safety in an earthquake — that is what makes my homemaker’s heart sing.)

But whenever I bring home books from the library, this invariably happens: I read the first few of my library books. I’m very good; I finish them in plenty of time. Then I get restless. The rest of the library books don’t look as shiny as they did in the library. I get an urge for something different, something…closer to home.

I turn to my shelves of unread glory. I pull a selection of books from it, wanting to read them, to crack their virgin spines. I accumulate a pile.

And then I sit and stare at them, feeling guilty that I haven’t finished my library books yet, and feeling I need to do that before I can read my own books.

Right now I have a stack of books from the library sitting in my house. Most of them are due in 3 days. Of the 4 that are due in 3 days, there is 0% chance I will finish any of them. (I have 2 more that are due in June. There is a 100% chance I will finish one of them, as it’s a short poetry book, and a 50% chance I’ll finish the other one, which is a history book about Africa — selected readings, so it’s not very big, but the font size is criminally small and I’m almost 30 now so my eyes have given up the ghost. It was a good run, guys.)

Could I renew them again? Yes, I could; put a bandaid on the bullet hole. It won’t fix the underlying problem, and I still won’t read them before the final renewal is up. My attention has wavered. I still have every intention to read at least 2 of the books in that stack, but not now. Not like this. Maybe in a few months.

I will return the 4 books this week and I will finish the poetry book. I will make half-hearted attempts at the Africa book with its print for mice, and I will crack open one of my unread books from my personal library, and likely devour it quickly. I will mark it as a success, both for my TBR Challenge, wherein I don’t acquire new books but read the ones I have, and likely for the GoodReads FABClub challenge, which I’ll probably blog about here tomorrow or maybe never, let’s be honest.

The TBR Challenge should probably be called the Love the One You’re With Challenge. That is what I’m learning to do, what my brain forces me into every time I bring those shiny harlots home from the library: you have a perfectly good library at home, it hisses at me, recalcitrant partner that I am.

We are not trophy books! Read us, use us, make us part of your life, I hear from my shelves. We are not here to be pretty acquisitions! We are here to be with you.

Maybe it’s not a dysfunctional relationship with library books. Maybe it’s just with books.

Still. They bring me heart-stopping joy to have around, even if I never read them. That is worth something.