OBBD: Obsessive Book Buying Disorder

Guess who’s been naughty…yes, me. I cannot help myself. It’s not my fault. Don’t blame me. I think it’s actually a disease and if I were to be the one to name it, I would call it “Obsessive Book Buying Disorder.” OBBD. Mild, moderate, severe? I would rate the severity of my condition, on a scale of one to ten, an eleven. I am saving like a maniac so as to actually do something relatiely worthwhile with the remainder of 2012. I forego shopping for clothing, shoes, jewellery, food, stationery and any other imaginable necessity but when it comes to books…my responsible and very mature financial attitude evaporates like steam. I no longer have control over my thoughts or actions. I would even go so far as to say I am momentarily possessed. Books practically throw themselves off their shelves into my arms, screaming at the top of their literary lungs, “Buy me!” So really, what choice do I ever have? I am not a strong-willed person; as much can be easily deduced by taking one glance at my thighs and knowing instantly that my pledge to exercise regularly never eventuated. So yes…I’ve been naughty but blame the stupid books with their stupidly colourful covers and enticing blurbs. Blame the stupid authors for their stupid brilliance. Blame the stupid bookstore for being so stupidly homely and wonderful and irrestible. But don’t blame me for I have OBBD.

Yesterday, en route to Queensland’s Sunshine Coast, I stopped with my family in Brisbane City’s West End. With the sole excpetion of Hogwarts, you cannot imagine a more magical place. The culinary aromas of every ethnicity, from Mexican to Thai, waft tantalisingly from the dozens of restaurants that line the main strip. The clothing boutiques sell a bizarre amalgamation of classy, nighclub outfits to happy bohemian ware. There are organic fruit marts, vegan cafes, espresso bars, music clubs, dinky and dingy everything stores, happy herb shops, juicers, sushi trains, psychic reading corners and burger joints. But moreso than for the this wonderful array of cultures, I love West End for its bookstore. There are two that I know of actually, but one in particular, ‘The Avid Reader’, took my breath away. Shelves teetering with the very greatest of titles, classics with colourful and unique cover designs, creative stationery and quirky notebooks, best-sellers to biographies and to top it all off, the intoxicating smell of coffee permeating the air from the cafe nook. It’s an atompshere of wisdom and creativity and leisure, nuturing other worlds and otherworldly pursuits. It is, in a word, sublime.

The Avid Reader

The Avid Reader

And this is where my OBBD kicked in. I spent an entire hour perusing the shelves of ‘The Avid Reader’ and even found myself cross-legged in front of the classics section at one point. I picked up and put down about one trillion different books and then began to calculate just how many I would physically be able to carry to the car. I went from an armful of orange Penguin classics, to a bundle of biographies to an obscure mixture of best-sellers and never-been-heard-ofs. I disrupted the entire heavenly store and will no doubt be therefore sent straight to literary hell when I die. Eventually though, I chose one. One. Shall I repeat it again? One. Let’s just take a moment to admire my awe-inspiring feat of self-restraint. Of the many marvellous titles on offer, I chose Kurt Vonnegut’s (How in the name of God is one supposed to pronounce his last name, by the way? Von-gut? Von-E-gut? Von-eh-gut?) ‘Slaughterhouse 5’.

Coffee and Books

Now that you’re all so proud of me for exercising an incredible degree of will-power, I have a confession: this morning…OBBD struck again. But I promise, it was worth it. A bloody bargain, in fact. In search of breakfast and coffee on a tiny island that doesn’t seem to care all that much about breakfast and coffee, I came across a tiny Opp Shop selling the weirdest $2 items you’ve ever seen: porcelain cats with beady eyes that suggest they’re the direct spawn of Satan, outdated wetsuits with peter pan collars and odd strips of leopardprint material down the side, cooking knick-knacks that belong in a medieval kitchen…weird was definitely the word. However, in spite of the freak factor, this little store managed to momentarily distract me from my lack of caffeine and nourishment on an island that doesn’t seem to care all that much about caffeine and nourishment. Yes, there was a bookshelf. 50 cent books, 2 dollar books, 5 dollar books. I may have actually drooled a little. For the low, low price of just $5, I exited the odd opp shop with another two pieces of OBBD evidence: ‘The Scarecrow’ by Michael Connelly and ‘The English Assasin’ by Daniel Silva. Excellent finds, if I may say so myself.

Obsessive Book Buying Disorder is what I call it. It’s a disease and I cannot be blamed for my symptoms.

Presents from the Postal Service

Is there anything quite like entering the sweet atmosphere of a book store, breathing in the intoxicating aroma of volumes of pages and getting lost between the shelves of a thousand stories? These labyrinthine worlds of spellbinding adventure, magic, truth and illogic have existed for centuries, housing everything from leather-bound collector’s editions of Shakespeare to tattered paperback copies of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Hours upon hours can be spent perusing the shelves of a book store, fruitfully in search of a good story within which to disappear from the mind-numbing inanity of everyday life.

Book shopping is not just about finding and purchasing a wad of paper; it’s an experience for all the senses. The smells, colours, quiet sounds of page-turning and textures of leather binding beneath fingers all combine to form the most delicious literary cocktail. Between this borderline magical experience and the economical convenience of online book shopping, there is a gargantuan difference. From the opening chapter of the internet shopping craze, whether it be for clothing, groceries or books, I’ve felt a sense of unease. Sure, you can browse Amazon while in your pyjamas or find the lowest of low prices when hunting for shoes online, but is there not a feeling of loss when you reminisce about the good old days of takeaway coffee cups, dressing rooms and wandering from store to store with a gaggle of friends?  I can bare to bid goodbye to these little things, I suppose, but when it comes to the whole-body book shopping experience, the world wide web simply cannot compete.

However (yes, I’m ashamed to say that I’ve actually developed a ‘however’ on this topic) …there are certain perks to being savvy with a search engine. While I will never, ever, ever abandon the beloved book store, I must confess to having indulged my bibliophilic obsessions from the comfort of my couch. You cannot stroke the binding or inhale the scent of the pages but you sure as hell can bag a bargain and not only that, but you can also track down books whose out-of-print status or inexplicable unpopularity find it absent from the majority of book store shelves. Yes, the seemingly bland and impersonal worlds of Amazon, Fishpond and eBay actually have a handful of advantages to tempt even the most devoted anti-internet shopper.

The other day, while housebound due to my current lack of license and my family’s commitment to their prearranged plans, I took a guilty trip from Google to Fishpond (Australia’s version of Amazon) and found my mind boggled and my breath taken by the sheer volume and variety of books, music and movies on offer. From books of unparalleled obscurity to those of the New York Time’s best seller list, Fishpond had it all. I felt like a little kid in a candy store, seduced by the promises of sweet happiness and excitement, and in spite of myself, I filled a virtual basket with my first ever web purchases. A little behind the times, I may seem, but you have to understand what a betrayal of my beliefs this little experience was.

I didn’t fully appreciate the wonder of online book shopping (partially due to my guilt and partially due to the whole experience being impersonal and cold) until yesterday. ‘Hello post man! Oh, you come bearing gifts?’ Yes, yesterday marked the arrival of one of my purchases and although I wasn’t actually present when the mail arrived, coming home to a brand-spanking-new book wrapped in brown paper on my door step was a wonderful experience. It was like sending myself a gift of the very best kind (the literary kind) which was exhilaratingly naughty and gloriously fruitful. Unwrapping the package to find a beautiful copy of ‘Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy’, by John Le Carre, felt like Christmas in January, albeit a gift debited from my own bank account, and served to open my mind just a fraction more to the benefits of virtual book buying.

Books in the Mail

So, while nothing will ever compare to the holistic book store experience, I can say from personal experience that if, once in a while, you find yourself in need of Amazon of Fishpond, you will get a nerdy little kick out of having books delivered to your door! There is something particularly satisfying about sending yourself a little literary gift.