In which I reveal my one true flaw


I did it again.

I promised myself I wouldn’t. I even gave myself a pep talk right before. But faced with the temptation, I could only resist for a lousy two minutes. And half of that I spent fumbling for my wallet.

Hi. I’m Karen and I’m a bookaholic.

All things considered, it’s not THAT bad. I mean, compared to other addictions, the worst that could happen is that I overload my brain. Or be buried alive by an avalanche of books once perched atop a poorly secured wall shelf because – who are we kidding? – I have no room in my room for grand bookcases.

So, there I was, walking into Barnes & Noble, one of my favorite post-work stops when I still have brainpower to spare, thinking I’d pop in, flip through a magazine or a book or whatever, and pop right back out. I noticed it was 6:20, a mere 40 minutes before book readings there usually happen. I casually Googled who might be there that night (because going up four flights of escalators is too much to ask of someone on the ground floor), and, lo and behold, it was Maira Kalman – super illustrator and artist of all the things.

Just the night before, I’d told Phil that I loved how “Sixth and Mission“married illustration with words, much like Kalman’s “The Principles of Uncertainty.”

Clearly, there were external forces at work here. I had to buy her new book.

(Is rationalizing a feature of addiction? Because… I think it’s perfectly justified in certain situations.)

My bookaholism is only exacerbated by my work’s proximity to this glorious, four-story Barnes & Noble. I’m there so often I know the employees by name. There’s Jake with the peg leg, Roman the this-is-a-no-sitting-on-the-floor-zone enforcer, Sandra with the yellow high-heeled boots, Meg the angry Nook teller and Samir the Magnificent (Electronic Cataloguer).

“Welcome, my dear Karen,” they said. I took my usual aisle seat diagonal to the podium, perfectly positioned to either give the author my signature come-hither stare not unlike a groupie at a Best Of Julie Andrews As Maria Von Trapp Played By Julie Andrews concert or sneak out as unnoticed as one can be in a completely open space where you can see everything and everyone.

Kalman and Daniel Handler (aka Lemony Snicket) took the stage. Using a photo of an empty, messy desk, they described how Einstein used Kalman as his muse for the theory of relativity (M for Maira! C for Calman!).  It was the kind of conversation best experienced by a third as a spectator, chin on palms, carpals pressed together, grinning shamelessly.

They were witty. Too witty. So witty that by the time I got my book signed, all I could say was, “Hello. Hi.” Brilliant.

Once on the subway, I encountered an all too familiar conundrum: read the shiny, new book or the one I’ve been working on for… forever?

This got me thinking of all the times I’d chosen the shiny, new book over the perfectly great current one. It’s one of the major downfalls of bookaholism. Often, the new becomes the old until the old is once again new, and the never-new is never-read.

I’d had enough. With Rafiki-like conviction, I declared to my fellow commuters and the pantsless crooner who, with his rendition of Boyz II Men’s “I’ll Make Love to You,” went from a Grade A creeper to the stuff viral YouTube sensations are made of: IT IS TIME.

So, here it is. Project Read One Book At A Time, Dummy. In it, I’ve listed all the books I’ve started in the last year and have yet to complete and hope to complete in 2012.

Do feel free to share reading tips of your own or to scold me for no reason in particular. Do not, however, take this as an invitation to scold me for my life, er, book choices, for I will return the favor by scrutinizing your choice of hats.

So there, Bookjudger McJudgerson.

I’m aware this could get frustrating. I’m also aware I’ll very likely suffer a meltdown involving a book, a match and a vat of red ink. But I’ve never been one to back down from a worthy challenge. I am, after all, Winner and Champion of Spontaneous Spelling Bees With Scant Participation.

But maybe this is much bigger than that.

Maybe this is for all the bookaholics out there who never had someone tell them that good books are meant to be finished. That that shiny, new one will still be there a month from now. So please, please buy groceries before you go to Barnes & Noble. Because I’m pretty damn sure you have that on your Kindle.

Yes. This is for you.

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