my love for books rivals my love for, well, everything else

Amanda Schaefer |

Growing up, my house looked kind of like a bookstore. My parents are avid readers, and it showed.  A bookshelf was my most loved piece of “big girl” furniture – even if I did have to share it with my sister. I filled it with my first chapter books, Baby Sitters Club, and even books I borrowed from my parents’ “library” that I would insist on trying to read even though they were way above my limited comprehension. Perusing my parents’ shelves started my life-long addiction to bookstores and libraries.

Thirteen years later. Anybody who looks in the bag I carry everyday, goes shopping with me, or walks into my apartment notices: I spend way too much money on books. My first bookshelf has been replaced by the biggest I can find for the least amount of money. I feel more comfortable in bookstores than I do in any other public place. There’s no social awkwardness, no special etiquette. Every bookstore or library has a different vibe, but they all are benevolent purveyors of my drug of choice.

I need to confess something. I like Borders. There. I said it. I’m sure I’m not the only one (especially among English majors) who have been taught to disdain the corporate chain bookstore. But Borders is the place I go when I need something specific. Big, shiny, diverse, authoritative, it has that “new book smell” and all those cheerful baristas to make me coffee as I browse. The café provides me a place to read, and even better, a place to watch people read. Parents reading to their kids, teens reading Harry Potter, and my personal favorite, the weekly knitting groups paging through books of patterns. They bring to mind rival knitting gangs. At Borders I can read, drink cofeee, and if I’m careful not to flash the wrong yarn color, even knit.

Now I’m not a book snob. In fact, I prefer used books. I like knowing that something I’m reading has been read by someone else, that it has a history. I still go back to the Old Bookseller in Rice Lake when I’m visiting my parents. It’s a typical small-town used bookstore – tiny, with one lady running the whole operation. They sell old Rice Lake postcards and bookmarks (the kind that are supposed to cure your dog-earing, but never worked for me).

There’s also the welcoming bowl of Tootsie Rolls near the front, although the Northern Wisconsin book readers’ good manners (“Are those free and meant to be munched on? I better not risk it.”) leaves the bowl pretty my perpetually full. I bought my first copy of Midnight’s Children by Slaman Rushdie there. I also bought my second copy of Midnight’s Children there after the friend I lent the first copy to absconded to Colorado for almost a year. He returned with the book a few days after I bought my second copy.

Buying multiple copies of books is another bad habit of mine. At Crossroads in Eau Claire I once bought two of the exact same editions of Go Down, Moses by William Faulkner (on accident, I’m not that nerdy). There’s always something at Crossroads I never heard of but deep down have always needed. When I leave there with my bag full of books, I know I’ve gotten my money’s worth, unlike, say swimsuit shopping which is harrowing, overly expensive and in the end you have something you don’t even look forward to using.

I have to say my favorite book shopping experiences are at that elusive and delightful creature – the library basement used book sale. When I was young, I was convinced that I would read every book in the building. L.E. Phillips sales, with their organization, cheerful volunteers, and refreshments make them more like a used book festival than a sale.

And I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for the Rice Lake Library’s Basement Book Store. It’s a quaint, organized year-round bookshop. I love going down there whenever I’m home – traveling through the bowels of the library basement to get to this quiet, tucked away nook. There many of the books that I was insistent on reading as a child are finally available to keep as an adult.

The books that I buy at the library bookstore have been in the homes of hundreds of Rice Lakeans throughout the years. I get the feeling of a book savior. When I pick up a tattered Doris Lessing from the room of reject books, I feel like that one awesome animal lover who adopts the 10 year-old, three-legged Weimeraner from the pound. They’re both good feelings, even if what you leave with might not look or function the same way a new shiny thing might – say like something from a pedigree breeder, or from Borders.

There hasn’t been a time I can remember when I haven’t had a book-in-progress. I’m interested in all things related to books, which is why a recent WPR broadcast caught my attention. The guest was talking about a piece he wrote on how the Internet has destroyed the American’s ability to read. I have to believe, seeing the people I see at these sellers of books, that I’m not the only person that proves that theory wrong.