August 2, 2008



My name is Bryan and I'm an addict. It's been, well, less than twelve hours since my last book purchase. Tonight, I'll probably dream about buying books. The smells, the heft, how my hands feel genetically designed to hold a book. And never one. No, one just doesn't do it for me anymore. I remember when one could do it. Back when I could roll into a B&N or a local book shop, and stroll out with my Ray Carver or Larry McMurtry. Now,, one's not even worth going in the store, man. I've gone round the bend. I've got it bad. I see the pulpy, remaindered bottom coming at me fast.

Since moving to Madison, seventeen books have been added to my library. None of them are firsthand books. I'm shopping used. The book buying equivalent of high grade junk.

What have I gotten? Two Best Americans I don't have (one for essays, one for stories). William Kennedy's Ironweed. That signed William Matthews I wrote about before. In this past week, I've picked up:
Into Thin Air - Jon Krakauer
First Light - Charles Baxter
Golden Compass - Philip Pullman (this one is for Emily)
Midnight's Children - Salman Rushdie
Self-Help - Lorrie Moore
The Hermit's Story - Rick Bass
The Fermata - Nicholson Baker
Where You'll Find Me - Ann Beattie
Secrets and Surprises - Ann Beattie
Hey Jack! - Barry Hannah
Boomerang/Never Die - Barry Hannah
Airships - Barry Hannah (first edition)
Shiloh & Other Stories - Bobbie Ann Mason

It's the stores, too. Those dirty needles, glinting like diamonds. They slide so easy into the veins, just as designed. Pull the plunger back, draw in just a little blood, then push it down and in. Used bookstores, man...bad mojo there because they are like treasure hunting. It plays to my hunter/gatherer caveman brain and my goofed up intellectual brain. All the synapses are firing all over the place and I can't help it. Today, while pretty damn hungry, I spent what felt like an hour dredging through Avol's Bookstore, to come away with those Beattie's (both short story collections, one has Snow in it, the other has Vintage Thunderbird...great fucking stories, go find them if you don't know what they, she's UW's writer in residence this year, so hey, why not) and the Nicholson Baker (because I know Jorge would approve me finally reading that).

Then, we noshed on some Afghani food (I thought I had Afghani food before, turns out it was Tibetan...the food was damn good, by the way), only to cruise by the other used bookstore on State Street, Phillips Books. This bookstore is the prototypical used shop. Stacks of books everywhere, narrow aisles where you feel swallowed alive in book spines, over-tall shelves, and strange books for sale (I found two copies of the Warren Report on the shelf, which struck me as strange). And while it specializes in musty volumes of world history, they have a little section of fiction, where I found two of those Barry Hannah's. Two! Hell, they had four Hannah's there, something I think is pretty damn rare for any bookstore. One I had, the two I bought, and I left one of the shelf because it didn't have a price written on it that I could find. (Foolish! Foolish! Foolish!)

Then, lord god, the University Bookstore is having a half-off sale. Half-off! Jesus! That's where the Baxter, Krakauer and Pullman came from earlier in the week. Clearly these books used for classes that aren't being used again, which makes me wonder who the hell would use Anthony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential as a text for a class. It's a fun book, but I don't know the teaching value (I have the book on CD). There were other questionable choices too, but shit, there were all kinds of Lorrie Moore there (she does teach at the UW, so hey, why not) so I had to get Self-Help (Who Will Run the Frog Hospital was there too, but I went with the short stories)...How to Be a Writer is in there, c'mon! Plus, Hermit's Story by Rick damn fine condition, too...and that book has The Fireman in it, could I say no, plus I used Bass in my comps, we have a thing going on for each other. And the Midnight's Children one was because I've heard that's Rushdie's best book, so I figured I should read it (plus, I remember Erin Goodale saying that it was her favorite book).

Finally, we had to check the big boys, the chains. Madison's got'em both, Borders and Barnes & Noble. We checked Border's first. It was a big one, had some back issues of Best American I don't have, but I managed not to buy any of them. I stopped myself. Also I stopped from getting that book Boys on the Bus, another take on the 72 presidential election (Hunter S. Thompson did the other one you might have heard about). So, I left that street corner without taking down that recipe of smack.

But then, the Lord provided a challenge too great. The Barnes and Noble near(ish) my apartment is a cathedral to modern bookselling. Beautifully kept shelves, lots of room, rows and rows of books, huge selections of everything (except literary magazines, the bastards). But, they have a used book section. Yes, this Barnes and Noble sells used fucking books. I couldn't believe it. That's where I found the Bobbie Ann Mason, for two dollars. Two dollars! I had to get that. Then, I found their collection of first editions for sale. They mostly had dreck like out-of-date histories, aside from some obscure Tolkien and a Billy Graham book, but then I found the gems in the rough. First was a first edition of Richard Ford's Independence Day. I picked it up. It was reasonably priced and I had a plan to ship it to Diana to get Mr. Ford to sign for me. But, there it was, resting on the shelf like an unopened balloon of heroin...I found saw a first edition, Barry Hannah. And it was his Airships collection.

God help me, I squealed. I might have even clapped. Pretty sure I waggled my fists in front of my face, too. I was a teen girl on the floor of the Ed Sullivan Show soaking through my cotton underpants for the Beatles. Oh, Barry, Barry, Barry...the drollest, southernest, weirdest of the Fab Five. Twenty dollars, but I probably would have paid more and I already own a copy of Airships (oh, it's a good one). I know, I know, I don't need two of the same book...but, c'mon, man....first edition! Holy shit! Imagine your favorite author, and one of his/her seminal volumes, and you have a chance to get it without maxing out a credit card...and you stumble onto it in, of all places, a chain bookstore. You get that fucking book, that's what you do. It was too perfect. Now, it's sitting right next to the laptop right now, looking at me, smelling like dust, ink and glue. Absolutely glorious.

Whew, okay. This is going to be a hard, hard struggle. I haven't even been in all the bookstores in Madison yet. And there's this junk store on Regent that sells books, so you know they got good stuff there. And another one called Booked for Murder that has to be cool. But, I can manage this. I am stronger than my addiction. I can keep this under control, and not let it drag me down where I'm offering blowjobs in library stacks for a few loose pages of a lesser Updike. It won't get that bad. Though, man, those used books are cheap, and I've always been curious about Dolores Lessing...and there's that Hannah to go collect...and the Barnes and Noble had a copy of Specimen Days for a reasonable price, and I heard that's interesting...and what did I miss?....what didn't I find in the stores?...there could be more...of everything. But I'm strong. I can do this. Just one day at a time, right? One day at a time.

viva el mustache


Emily said...

Hi, my name is Emily, and I'm an addict. It's been 3 days since my last book purchase.

Does this make us co-dependent or am I your enabler?

Luke said...

At least, if you are going to be an abuser, you only inject the finest of the shit... which it looks like you do.

Nathan Melcher said...

The Fermata is really, really good.