I Can Resist Almost Anything Except Books (Even Robots!)

December 1, 2009

I believe it was Henry Ward Beecher who said that taking an academic by a bookstore is like taking a drunkard past a tavern. I know that he’s the one who asked, “Where is human nature so weak as in the bookstore?“ Mine is pretty darn weak there. I cannot resist books. I collected my first grownup books when I was seven years old and I’ve carted those two treasures, folio editions of Dante’s Inferno and Milton’s Paradise Lost with illustrations by Gustav Dore through multiple moves back and forth across the United States. I can tell you where they are right this minute, despite having many boxes still to unpack from a move we made a year ago. I have unpacked some boxes, though. The books. I cannot relax without access to my books.

We came back from the trip to Ohio loaded down with books, suitcases almost too heavy to lift. Trips to bookstores and thrift shops all yielded books I couldn’t resist. I passed up a plastic lady lamp with a huge net and satin hoopskirt for a shade because I couldn’t figure out how to carry her with me and didn’t have time to send myself a box, my usual modus operandi. (And, I must admit, I already have one lady lamp, but it would have been nice to have a pair.) I just said no to a pair of really large plaster squirrels that hang on the wall for the same reason. I said adieu to a cookie jar shaped like a sheriff. I bought one just like it in the 1970s and his hat got broken in a move and I’ve always wanted to replace him. Alas, if I am meant to have any of these treasures I didn’t get, they will come into my life again when I have a car to carry them home in. Books, however, can be shoehorned in anywhere.

Here’s a sampling of what I bought:

Point of Departure: 19 Stories of Youth and Discovery. Robert S. Gold, Ed. (1967). New York: Dell Publishing Company.

I bought this book because I teach adolescent development and because I am working on an art exhibit called Flaming Youth about images of—and issues with—teenagers. It is fascinating to me how times change, but many things about being human don’t, especially the angst of adolescence. I also found a couple of great breast quotations as I was looking through the book trying to decide if I wanted it. Since it was only a dime, it was an easy decision. Plus, my other decider is how many Post-Its© I want to put into a book in the first few minutes I look through it. (My husband noted once that it took me only ten seconds with a Time Magazine to have the first yellow flag inserted.)

The Best Things Ever Said in the Dark. Bruce Adamson (2004). New York: Allworth Press.

You may have noticed that I love quotations. This book is a compilation of quotations from the movies. I have books of quotations, but a person can never have too many. Looking on the internet is okay, but I find many more usable ones as I look through my collection. My decision-maker here is whether or not I find at least five quotations I haven’t seen or heard before in the book. (Plus it has to be cheap—true of all of my choices on this trip.)

TV Advertising: A Handbook of Modern Practice. Authur Bellaire (1959). New York: Harper & Brothers, Publishers.

Another dime book. I am a sucker for anything that offers a historical perspective on something I’m interested in. Since I ask my students to explore the cultural influences that affect adolescents, I particularly liked reading about the ways in which television was first used to sell us things we don’t need.

Kitschy Crafts: A Celebration of Overlooked 20th-Century Crafts. Jo Packham & Matt Shay (2006). New York: Sterling Publishing Company.

I think a lot about the ways women—and men—sublimate their creative urges by making crafty things for the home. There’s a whole section of my exhibit about women’s work, Home•Makers/Care•Takers, that focuses on home creativity. It features things like a crocheted poodle bottle cover I bought some years ago at a Salvation Army. I found its poodlepuffy brother in this book: a crocheted toilet paper cover guaranteed to “put a little bite in your bathroom“ (p. 94).

The Stuff of Thought. Steven Pinker (2007). New York: Viking.

This book is subtitled Language as a Window into Human Nature. How could I possibly resist? I love Pinker anyway, although his books are often a slow read for me, delicious reading stuff that I think of like hard candies to suck on rather than cotton candy to be gobbled down quickly.

Thunder, Flush, and Thomas Crapper: An Encycloopedia. Adam Hart-Davis (1997). London: Michael O’Mara Books, Ltd.

Come on, would I pass up a book of toilet stuff that only cost a buck? Of course not. I learned, for example, on page 27, that “‘bumf‘ (or ‘bumph‘) is a rude word for paper or papers, and is short for ‘bum-fodder‘“ (AKA toilet paper). We’re talking toilet-related facts, folks, a whole book full of them!

Fluffy Humpy Poopy Puppy: A Ruff, Dog-Eared Look at Man’s Best Friend. Charles S. Anderson & Michael J. Nelson (2006). New York: Abrams Image.

I developed a children’s literature unit around a book I wrote called I Do Not Have a Dog, You Know. Fluffy Humpy Poopy Puppy is chock full of inspiration and images that I’ll be able to use with this unit. Plus I love to say the first four words of the title. Go ahead, give it a try. It’s better than that girl who sells sea shells down by the seashore.

Women’s Letters: America from the Revolutionary War to the Present. Lisa Grunwald & Stephen J. Adler, Eds. ( 2005). New York: The Dial Press Trade Paperbacks, a division of Random House, Inc.

I’m developing a letter-writing unit to use when I’m teaching Creativity in the Classroom. This book is fascinating and provides many reasons to retain the disappearing art of writing real letters with paper and pen.

I just measured the stack of new-to-me books next to the bed. It’s over two and a half feet high, but I’m stopping here for now. A personal note regarding robots. They too can be shoehorned in almost anywhere and are usually much lighter in weight than books. Sadly, I didn’t see any on this trip that were both cheap and tempting.

Imagine that you have a hundred dollars and you have to spend it on books. What kind(s) of books would you buy?

I get crazy in a bookstore. It makes my heart beat hard because I want to buy everything.
• Reese Witherspoon



  1. Kitschy Crafts was always one of my favorites. It so reminded me of my mom and my grandmother – they would sit and make those “fabulous” home decor items by the hour. I still have most of them … and even though I would never put them on my coffee table every time I run across the box and sit down to go through it I simply cannot seem to throw them away!
    Happy reading!
    Jo Packham

    • I’m glad to know that there’s someone else out there appreciating such stuff. There’s something very touching to me about the ways women (and men too–I have lots of woodcraft too) beautified their nests with shiny, frilly, crocheted, knitted, shellacked, needlepointed glory. Z

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