I’ll often just sit and read each new book from cover to cover without interruption – not stopping to eat or drink – glued to each page, unable to put it down, unable even to sleep until I reach the end. I’ve described myself as a book-addict – the intensity of my focus on what I’m reading is such that I will block out everything around me. Several times I can recall the onset of eye-strain because the sun has set without me noticing and it has got so dark I can hardly distinguish the words from the page.
It’s not just reading I love: I collect the books I read. I’ve never got on with borrowing from libraries – I need to know that I’ve got the book and I can go back to it any time I choose. Some of my paperback novels I have had more than 20 years and read about that many times. Some are falling apart but I can’t bear to throw them out or even replace them. And yes, I can remember them in detail. Knowing the plot of a book doesn’t put me off reading it – in fact I find the opposite is true. Once I know the outline of the plot I can focus on the detail – I get more out of a book with each reading and the familiarity is comforting.
I keep my books organised on shelves where possible or in cupboards, grouped into sets by author and/or series and sorted chronologically (either by story timeline or original publication date, whichever I feel is more appropriate). It feels wrong to me if I see that any are out of order – it nags at me and I have to fix it. When I was growing up my father bought a copy of the Encyclopaedia Britannica. Just putting the volumes in numerical order wasn’t enough for me. Because I considered it to be a single, continuous work I had to put volume I on the right with volume II to its left and so on until the final volume was on the left hand end of the shelf – so that the pages were in order across the whole set even if that order did run from right to left. Possibly a little extreme even for me!
While I can visualize scenes in novels in some detail based on the written descriptions, the same doesn’t hold true for the characters. I can see a soldier’s uniform and kit, say, but there’s no recognizable face. This does cause me to occasionally get characters mixed up – they “look” the same to me. I suffer from a related problem in “real life” – somebody I don’t know very well, or even somebody I do know quite well but haven’t seen for a while, might feel familiar to me but I won’t be able to place them or put a name to them. The people I do the weekly pub quiz with can tell you how bad I am at recognizing people – celebrities – from their photos when they crop up in picture rounds.
I remember once, while I was a student, sitting in the waiting room at a station. A woman who evidently knew me from Cambridge started talking to me and we chatted for a while about people and places that were familiar to me – she obviously knew me fairly well – but to this day I have no idea who she was! I can recall the scene in that waiting room and I can picture her – tall, slim, black leather biker’s jacket and blue jeans, long dark hair – but I can’t recall her face. For that matter I even have difficulty picturing my parents’ faces – I can recall details, parts, but can’t put them together into a whole image. It particularly upsets me that I can’t visualize my late mother’s face.
But back to books – I’ve wandered off-topic (again). While I wouldn’t quite say books were an obsession to me, they definitely rank as a special interest. A long-standing one as well: I’ve been collecting and reading books since my age was in single digits. It’s partly the physical form that attracts me – this is why I don’t feel much attachment to electronic books. They might offer convenience, taking up only the space required for the reader but the so-called books don’t exist other than as data in some black box. You can’t feel them, can’t smell them, can’t hear the rustle as you turn the pages. You can’t find an old scrap of paper, used as a bookmark, tucked into one that will trigger memories of the last time you picked up that book. With the sterile electronic book there’s no physical, emotional connection. I’ve tried them and they’re mere intangible shadows of “real” printed books – they’re not for me.