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Book Me

I'm a greedy reader. Throughout the day, I steal every occasion to break out a book. In line at the market, I actually enjoy standing behind that guy who is shopping once and for all: more time to read. I loiter so long in Borders, they want to charge me rent. While driving, I'll steer with my knee to finish a chapter. I also read before bed each night. If I don't turn in till 1 a.m., so it goes.

On top of my toilet is a book of quotations. During a recent ... movement ... I found a great quote by General Norman Cota: "Gentlemen, we are being killed on the beaches. Let's go inland and get killed."

I keep every book I read and refrain, by policy, from lending them out.

Another quote from the toilet: "No one ever returns books. The only books in my shelf are the ones that people lent me."

My bookshelf, or trophy case, is more crowded than the California coastline. I'm just kidding; nothing is that crowded. The books are, however, heavy enough to prevent even the dearest of friends from helping me move. The books are alphabetized not just because of my OCD but because I reference them often. If I need to cite the meaning of life, for instance, I turn to the A's, find Douglas Adams, and see that it is 42.

Today, I'm strolling down memory shelf. I am on my belly in the living room, head in hands, admiring the annals before me. Maybe it's the booze talking, but I'm starting to wax philosophical. May I?

Books shape us. They inform us, amuse us, help us quit smoking cigarettes. They divulge truths that were kept from us in high school. They are footholds in our perpetual climb for heaven. They stand proud in our library like so many soldiers saluting our effort to evolve.

Reviewing my collection, I see the textbooks, self-important, taking extra space as if they deserve their own case but lack the funding. There is The Human Brain, my newest trophy (I was trying to figure out what's wrong with me ... the search continues). There is Media and Society, Human Communication, Encyclopedia of Religion, ad infinitum, et al., and so forth.

Tucked into the crevices between the big boys are the novels I so enjoy. Amazon offers a "Dover Thrift Collection" where you can purchase the classics for pennies on the dollar. Last month, I ordered 6 bazillion books that I've been meaning to read. I stick to the classics because they have been prescreened by time, and time has pretty good taste.

The flowery spines belong to self-help authors: Buscaglia, Dyer, Jampolsky. I read one per month in lieu of counseling.

Then come the fun books -- Seuss, Larson, Alfred E. Neuman. They are the whipped cream on the dangling carrot that sees me through the cerebral stuff.

Then we've got the poets: Whitman, Frost, Sandburg. Bless 'em for making life rhyme.

Then we've got the how-to books: how to write essays, how to have sizzling sex, how to make money (a book on counterfeiting).

In recalling each title, I visit an old friend who hasn't changed a bit.

There is Stranger in a Strange Land, a work that sealed a leak in my guts. There is The Hobbit, which I finished over a sunburn at the beach. There is The Essays of Emerson, the richest book in the bunch. Would you know that I bought it for a dime at a garage sale?

Talented writers take more space than the others. Steinbeck has consumed the S's despite objections from Shakespeare; Dickens owns the D's; Vonnegut, showoff, presents his life's work at the end of the alphabet.

Oh, and there's a thick one: the Bible. I placed it in the G's for God. This particular Bible is covered in pastel swirls, but make no mistake -- it is the heaviest read you'll ever undertake. All the Easter egg colors in the world won't disguise the nonstop genealogy, the 6-point type, the wherefores and untos. I would have quit on the Bible if it weren't for spite: I needed to know what the thumpers were thumping about (I hate when people speak in tongues).

I encourage you to spend time with your books. Organize them. Reread them. Take them to the zoo.

Our books form the truest record of where we've been and who we are. They are the reference section of our larger life.

I will continue to grow my collection in the hope that someday I can look back and figure out what the hell it was all about.

"After all," as the renowned Anonymous said, "you are what you read."


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