Okay, I should warn you before we go any further that I’m about to share something that’s really going to annoy my wife.
Sam, I’m sorry, but I can’t find a thing to read. I know our house is full of books. I know I’m a book addict when it comes to shopping, but none of the books we currently own are holding my attention at all. I’m really sorry and also, no, this doesn’t mean we can start getting rid of them.
For the record, I’ve always loved book shopping. No matter how tired I am, or how little money I’ve got left, I always struggle to pass a bookshop without going in. Especially if it’s a second-hand bookshop. Leaving one of those unbrowsed is a sin as far as I’m concerned. It’s sheer blasphemy.
Second-hand bookshops can be little shrines for me. Little churches of literature. There’s something enchanting about them. Something bordering on the magical. Their overcrowded windows are an invite that’s always nearly impossible for me to refuse. Their mazes of shelves can so quickly feel like home to me. Especially if they have those tall bookshelves that reach so close to the ceiling that you struggle to read the titles, let alone manage to get a book down.
Yep, I like my bookshops dusty and dimly lit, with a few piles of books placed around the floor to make it trickier to see all the spines. I want the shop to feel like it could end up being overrun by its own stock if doesn’t sell something to me soon. I want to have to hunt for a while before I find something good. It’s all part of the fun. It’s all part of the challenge. It’s the only hunting I’m good at. I’m guessing my ancestors must have rarely ever returned to the tribe with a decent meal, but they always made sure everyone had something to read.
Me and Sam have spent our last couple of summer holidays in and around Whitby. There are loads of little bookshops up there, dotted around the moors, nestled in the hearts of little market towns and the backstreets of fishing villages. I’ve had some really happy hunting up there. I’ve come across unusual biographies you wouldn’t find anywhere else. Pristine hardbacks. Interesting, crumpled paperbacks. Local stories written by local writers and dusty old volumes of legends.
One time, in Robin Hood’s Bay, I found a copy of ‘Diary of a Drug Fiend’ by Aleister Crowley which seemed to deeply concern the woman behind the counter.
“I’m not really sure I should be selling this at all,” she told me as she took my money. “I feel like I should be burning it.”
I thanked her for leaving the book off the pyre and wondered, as I walked out, how many other books there might soon find themselves on the growing ash heap of righteous censorship that was waiting at the bottom of her garden.
Thanks to that holiday and many others like it, we now have shelves all around our house lined with books just waiting to be read. A while ago, that would’ve sounded like paradise to me. Now it’s become a hellish torture. Like I said before, for some unknown reason, I can’t find one amongst them all that I want to read. It’s as if I’ve gone Book Blind. I mean, I chose all of these books, didn't I? I selected them from all the titles on offer. They looked good then, so why aren’t I enjoying them now?
At night, my dreams are haunted by the thought of a perfect book that’s waiting for me out there somewhere. A not too weight volume with a stylish cover and peppered with praising quotes taken from reviews. Something timeless, but interesting. Something modern but classical. Something that speaks about our world but isn’t necessarily set within it. Something that’s character driven but with a plot that will absolutely knock me off my feet. Annoyingly, I always wake up before I see the title. It’s become my white whale. My Moby Dick. Well, not my Moby Dick. I’ve already got a copy of that.
If we’re being honest, I’ve never been very good at focus. When I’m writing, I’m always getting distracted by a new idea. When I’m watching a movie at home, I’m always looking over the shelves and wondering what to watch next. If I’m given a choice of two takeaways, I’ll enjoy what we order in but I’ll keep thinking about the fried rice not taken. The pizza that got away. So, really, this latest problem shouldn’t come as much of a surprise at all. It’s just that it’s never happened to me with books before. I love books. I love reading. I love finishing a book and I love starting a new one. So how have we gotten into February without me finishing one single book this year? I should hang my head in shame.
The problem is the choice. There's no getting away from it. All these books I’ve purchased over the years. They’ve gotten out of hand. I somehow missed creating a library and ended up, instead, with a black hole of books. There’s an event horizon of choice and it’s overwhelming me. It’s consuming me. So, I’ve not gone Book Blind. No, I’ve gone (with apologies to the Coen Brothers) Book Simple.
I’ve created some surreal, Twilight Zone-esque punishment for myself, where there’s an endless array of interesting choices to constantly distract me. To pull at my focus. To stop me from every finishing anything ever again. One of the levels of Hell must look like this.
So, as we go into February, I need to be strong. I need to work on my focus and I need to stay away from any more second-hand bookshops. I was wrong. They’re not churches for me. They’re crack dens and I’m a weak, weak man.
(Again, Sam, this does not mean we can start throwing out books.)