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Bookstore Compulsions
May 20, 2011 4:11 AM   Subscribe

Biblioklept's list of bookstore compulsions, which I am sure you understand, like suggesting books to strangers, or buying books you'll never read.
posted by pleasebekind (49 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

 
I like to find bookmarks in used books. Sometimes a business card, sometimes a ticket stub, sometimes a grocery list, sometimes a letter. I once bought a Russian-published English-language edition of The Last of the Mohicans from a used book store in Warsaw because there were some black and white photographic negatives between the pages. When I had a look at them at home, they appeared to be pictures of an old television showing a state funeral. I have never gotten around to identifying whose funeral it might have been. I supposed I'll die and someone else will find that book with those negatives.
posted by pracowity at 4:50 AM on May 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm compelled to chat up girls in nice bookstores because they're likely to be both intelligent and bored which is always a promising combination. I tend to avoid second hand bookshops though, I think it was seeing too many flyleaves of books inscribed with messages of love for someone who'd clearly dumped their carefully chosen present on their next trip into town.
posted by joannemullen at 5:05 AM on May 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's like a glimpse into my furtive, guilty mind. I have few compulsions, but most of them are on that list.
posted by BrotherCaine at 5:05 AM on May 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


I've found that I can soothe my tendency to buy books I won't read as well as my urge to horde or hide books instore by taking a picture of the book with my phone. "Hey, I found this!" the picture says, giving me the satisfaction of a browsing discovery without the hit to my wallet or dwindling shelf-space.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 5:05 AM on May 20, 2011 [4 favorites]


Is that where all the good books are going? They're being hidden? No fair, guys!
posted by gubo at 5:12 AM on May 20, 2011


I will admit to buying used books based on the quality of the marginalia. I had a hard time choosing between three really marked-up copies of The Odyssey. Everyone seems to attack that one with gusto at the outset, then peter out at the halfway point, or two thirds, at best.
posted by Devils Rancher at 5:14 AM on May 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


I take the Creationism/Intelligent Design books at our local used bookstore and move them to the "Occult" section. I know it's wrong, but I can't help myself.
posted by JoanArkham at 5:19 AM on May 20, 2011 [20 favorites]


Hanging a lampshade on the idea that you're a creepy weirdo doesn't give you a pass for being a creepy weirdo, ugh.

As for buying books you'll never read, it's simply that my shelves are bigger than my eyes. It can get depressing. When you actually work out how many books you read in a year (barely 50-60 thanks to no commute time and busy-ness) and compare it to how many you buy (100? 200? easy) and then compare this mounting book overdraft to your life expectancy, you realise that by the time you hit 50 you'll either have to never buy a book again just to get through them all, or simply give up.

Which is a depressing thought. And makes me actively hostile to the compilers of "1000 books you must read" lists. 20 years just to follow some list, ignoring all new books and whims? Fuck you.
posted by bonaldi at 5:20 AM on May 20, 2011 [5 favorites]


My worst compulsion when it comes to books is continually buying via Amazon, used bookstores, estate sales and more until the end table in my office teeters precariously (as it is doing now). My husband gets frustrated but I can't help it.
posted by Kitteh at 5:35 AM on May 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


"I have to remind myself that giving someone a 700 page book that got incredibly mixed reviews is not really a gift; it’s a dare or burden. "

That is a factual statement.
posted by joelhunt at 5:47 AM on May 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


My biggest bookstore compulsion involves running around naked, covered in flour, and screaming: "cursed to haunt this treasury of literature, yet in life I never learned to read! Oh, what ironic hell awaits those of you who murder a librarian! Woe! Woe!"
posted by the quidnunc kid at 6:06 AM on May 20, 2011 [14 favorites]


My bookstore compulsion is reorganizing. If I run into a book that's out of order, in the wrong shelf or (gasp!) in the wrong section, I feel the need to return it to its right place. This may have something to do with having worked in bookstores. I also hide books, but not good books I wish to buy later, but books so bad I wish no one buys them. This may also have something to do with having worked in a bookstore.
posted by Kattullus at 6:06 AM on May 20, 2011 [10 favorites]


Another bookstore compulsion: when you have your arms loaded down, finally satisfied with your selections, you will find yourself with an unstoppable restroom urge and also find yourself on the opposite end of the store from the restroom. The intensity of the urge will be inversely proportional to the ease of finding a place to stash your books, the distance to the restroom, and the cleanliness thereof.
posted by gjc at 6:07 AM on May 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


My bookstore compulsion is reorganizing. If I run into a book that's out of order, in the wrong shelf or (gasp!) in the wrong section, I feel the need to return it to its right place.

I do this at hardware stores. "This is a grade *8* bolt, not a grade *10*! Tsk, tsk, tsk."
posted by gjc at 6:08 AM on May 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


I worked at a bookstore when I was in high school. It's been a great many years since I've had that job. But sometimes, when I'm at a bookstore, I find myself instinctively straightening unkempt shelves, and prominently displaying favorite books. It's never a conscious decision; I always just sort of notice after I've been doing it for a minute or two.
posted by .kobayashi. at 6:08 AM on May 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


All of these I know, with Kattalulus and BrotherCaine.

Customers sometimes approach me with questions. Maybe the decade of working in a used book shop left some kind of indelible mark. But it's still fun.
posted by doctornemo at 6:16 AM on May 20, 2011


The intensity of the urge will be inversely proportional to the ease of finding a place to stash your books,

That moment of panic when I think "If I put these down, someone will come along and take them while I'm peeing" is a compulsion, in a way. I mean -- used bookstore. People aren't going to snipe your stuff in 2 minutes. But still, that's when I am wont to do my hiding. Turning this way and that, seeking a proper hiding place, wracked with indecision, all the while the pressure in my bladder growing worse and worse with each passing moment. The horror! Thankfully, the children's section is near the restroom at my favorite Half Price, and that's a relatively safe hiding place.
posted by Devils Rancher at 6:19 AM on May 20, 2011


My bookstore compulsion is reorganizing.

Ditto. I'll re-shelve stuff that needs re-shelving, face books to fill space on shelf, etc. I was at Kepler's one day and there was a stack of books on the floor - left by someone who changed their mind? Or an employee who was shelving new stock and hadn't gotten to that section yet? - and I starting putting them in their rightful places when an actual employee came along and asked me if I was new. Sorry, I said; former bookstore worker, can't help it. She laughed and said she did the same thing when she went to other stores.
posted by rtha at 6:20 AM on May 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


Calvino's If on a winter's night a traveler starts with a related litany:

In the shop window you have promptly identified the cover with the title you were looking for [i.e. this book, which is stylistically self-referential]. Following this visual trail, you have forced your way through the shop past the thick barricade of Books You Haven't Read, which were frowning at you from the tables and shelves, trying to cow you. But you know you must never allow yourself to be awed, that among them there extend for acres and acres the Books You Needn't Read, the Books Made For Purposes Other Than Reading, Books Read Even Before You Open Them Since They Belong To The Category Of Books Read Before Being Written. And thus you pass the outer girdle of ramparts, but then you are attacked by the infantry of the Books That If You Had More Than One Life You Would Certainly Also Read But Unfortunately Your Days Are Numbered. With a rapid maneuver you bypass them and move into the phalanxes of the Books You Mean To Read But There Are Others You Must Read First, the Books Too Expensive Now And You'll Wait Till They're Remaindered, the Books ditto When They Come Out In Paperback, Books You Can Borrow From Somebody, Books That Everybody's Read So It's As If You Had Read Them, Too. Eluding these assaults, you come up beneath the towers of the fortress, where other troops are holding out:

the Books You've Been Planning To Read For Ages,
the Books You've Been Hunting For Years Without Success,
the Books Dealing With Something You're Working On At The Moment,
the Books You Want To Own So They'll Be Handy Just In Case,
the Books You Could Put Aside Maybe To Read This Summer,
the Books You Need To Go With Other Books On Your Shelves,
the Books That Fill You With Sudden, Inexplicable Curiosity, Not Easily Justified,

Now you have been able to reduce the countless embattled troops to an array that is, to be sure, very large but still calculable in a finite number; but this relative relief is then undermined by the ambush of the Books Read Long Ago Which It's Now Time To Reread and the Books You've Always Pretended To Have Read And Now It's Time To Sit Down And Really Read Them.

With a zigzag dash you shake them off and leap straight into the citadel of the New Books Whose Author Or Subject Appeals To You. Even inside this stronghold you can make some breaches in the ranks of the defenders, dividing them into New Books by Authors Or On Subjects Not New (for you or in general) and New Books By Authors Or On Subjects Completely Unknown (at least to you), and defining the attraction they have for you on the basis of your desires and needs for the new and the not new (for the new you seek in the not new and for the not new you seek in the new).

All this simply means that, having rapidly glanced over the titles of the volumes displayed in the bookshop, you have turned toward a stack of If on a winter's night a traveler fresh off the press, you have grasped a copy, and you have carried it to the cashier so that your right to own it can be established.


Not exactly the same thing, to be sure, but it stems from much the same impulse center in the brain. Anyway, the book is most certainly a reader's book.
posted by dhartung at 6:21 AM on May 20, 2011 [18 favorites]


It took a lot of effort, but I finally stopped buying books I wasn't going to read, and cleaned out my backlog almost completely. (It's on my bucket list to read the last handful or send them off to Half-Price by next November.) Instead I put them in Goodreads now and take them out of the library, or buy them later when I actually will read them, or eventually decide I won't get around to it and remove them from the list.

In part it's having realized that there are only so many books I'm going to read in my lifetime, and in part having only limited room in my home for books now. Life is too short to drink bad beer and generally too short to read mediocre books. There are too many books I'd love to buy and hang on to ones I won't get around to.
posted by immlass at 6:21 AM on May 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


This is why I only buy used e-books.
posted by randomkeystrike at 6:23 AM on May 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


This is brilliant. Perhaps most because I would never admit to my own bookstore compulsions which are everybit as vaguely creepy and which I had never even thought twice about until right now.
posted by From Bklyn at 6:23 AM on May 20, 2011


I frequent used bookstores more often than the big ones, and where I live - people *do* sometimes take your picks. Happened to me one time - my arms were so full so I thought I'd leave the books at the counter and ask the lady cashier to look after them while I look around for more. When I came back, somebody bought them, in a hurry apparently, so as not to get caught. All I could feel was irrational rage. It was so frustrating, especially when you took a lot of time and effort digging through piles just to spot the good titles.

Anyway, my other compulsions:
- Look for books obviously hidden by someone else. Out of respect, most times, I leave the book alone and just glance at the title (I am curious and always imagine what merits the hiding)
- "Save" books. Even if I already own the book, I sometimes buy it to give away to a friend whom I know will appreciate it, instead of letting it gather dust there.
- Fix and reorganize
- Take all NYRB classics and put them together on one shelf
posted by pleasebekind at 6:30 AM on May 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


but books so bad I wish no one buys them

Mr. Arkham once bought a copy of the novelization of the movie "Bram Stoker's Dracula" at a charity book sale so no one would accidentally buy it instead of the real thing.
posted by JoanArkham at 6:31 AM on May 20, 2011 [4 favorites]


I'm also a former bookstore worker who can't help but straighten out the shelves.

If this compulsion is common enough, it might offer a crowdsourcing opportunity to understaffed stores and libraries. Put up a little note saying how a shelf should be organized and encourage customers to jump in and fix things. "This shelf should be organized alphabetically by author and title. If you find any book out of place, please help others by returning it to its correct location."
posted by pracowity at 6:36 AM on May 20, 2011


My husband, who is a voracious reader, works with a woman with a massive kindle habit-- she doesn't read the books, she merely buys them. Whenever my husband mentions a book he is reading or a new book he is thinking about reading she either a) says, "Oh yes! I have that on my kindle but I haven't read it yet." or b) she writes the title down on a piece of paper to add it to her collection later. The strange thing is she was off sick for 2 weeks recently and when she came back Dave asked her what she read, but in her entire time off she hadn't managed to read a thing. We think she has some weird hoarding sickness.

I, on the other hand, can look up on the shelves and see books that I bought 30 years or more ago, moved 3000 miles, and still haven't read (such as Solzhenitsyn's The First Circle) so I should not be casting any stones.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 6:36 AM on May 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


As a former B&N bookseller, I'm another who can't walk into any bookstore without straightening/shifting shelves, changing faceouts, etc. I've been tempted before to grab a stack of books that were clearly waiting for reshelving at the information desk. It's a sickness.

I also frequently "check up" on the books I've sold to my local used bookstore. Just to see if they've found a new home yet.
posted by litnerd at 6:46 AM on May 20, 2011


pleasebekind: I frequent used bookstores more often than the big ones, and where I live - people *do* sometimes take your picks. Happened to me one time - my arms were so full so I thought I'd leave the books at the counter and ask the lady cashier to look after them while I look around for more. When I came back, somebody bought them, in a hurry apparently, so as not to get caught. All I could feel was irrational rage. It was so frustrating, especially when you took a lot of time and effort digging through piles just to spot the good titles.

Ooph... I don't know I would have handled your experience. Not half as well as you did, I'm sure. I've never had anything like that happen. Though once I loaned a friend who runs a used bookstore a book and some time later found the self-same book in the shelves of his store. That did not make me happy.
posted by Kattullus at 6:59 AM on May 20, 2011


I do all of this. Never worked in a bookstore (would you hire a heroin addict to be a pharmacist?), but I started as a page in a public library. Bookstores frustrate me because they don't use DDC, or even LC subject headings to place books. None the less, as I'm scanning the shelves, I find myself putting strays back where they belong. And bookstores almost never handle complex author names (MacDonald, Aspley Cherry Garrard, St. Joan) properly.

Also have to try hard not to suggest books to people. Sometimes, folks are more than happy to discuss an author they haven't read yet that they may enjoy, but just as often, they start edging away.

This is all despite being an introvert. Books are more important than my comfort!
posted by QIbHom at 7:04 AM on May 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


I had always wondered why people always come up to me in bookstores and ask where things are, particularly the large used bookstore in my town. It was so mysterious. There I would be, quite obviously a patron (even allowing for the bedraggled eccentricity of the true bookstore staff), and yet every time I went people would stop and ask where the something was housed. Since I knew the store like the back of my hand, I would not give the game away, I'd just tell them.

Then the other day I had a revelation as I went down the entire row, tapping books back into place and re-alphabetizing them. I, too, look like I work there because I'm doing things that make it look like I work there. I've never worked at a bookstore, though. I'm just compulsively tidy.
posted by winna at 7:05 AM on May 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


dhartung: What's funny, weird, wonderful, and uncomfortable about Calvino's list is that this one -- the Books You've Been Hunting For Years Without Success -- has all but disappeared from the scene. For the most part, this is a good thing. I'm glad I can find the books I need and have them delivered on my doorstep overnight. But there's a part of me that misses the giddy thrill of finally having found something, in a dusty used corner, that I thought I might never see.

I approximate this by inventing a new category, "Books I Will Only Buy If I Find Them Used, In Hardcover, And In Very Good Condition," which helps feign the thrill of the hunt. I finally found a beautify copy of Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy that way.* But it's a sort of ersatz thrill, like being a kitten pouncing on string but imagining it's a tiger on the hunt.

*a discovery in the darkest recesses of North Hatfield's Troubadour books that delighted both me and the shop-owner!
posted by .kobayashi. at 7:08 AM on May 20, 2011 [6 favorites]


dhartung: If on a winter's night a traveler is perhaps the most amazing book about reading a book I have ever read. Thanks for quoting that here.
posted by hippybear at 7:11 AM on May 20, 2011


I, on the other hand, can look up on the shelves and see books that I bought 30 years or more ago, moved 3000 miles, and still haven't read (such as Solzhenitsyn's The First Circle) so I should not be casting any stones.

You could buy the "uncensored" edition In the First Circle published last year and get rid of the old one. It wouldn't neccesarily help you read it, but it would reset the clock.
posted by Jahaza at 7:22 AM on May 20, 2011 [5 favorites]


Thanks for that idea, Jahaza. It gave me a good laugh, but I'm afraid I would just have two copies on the shelf that I haven't yet read.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 7:30 AM on May 20, 2011


I often suggest books when I overhear adolescents complaining about their fruitless search for "something cool to read" to their accompanying parent, because I have an unholy love of YA. But I try to mostly do this when I have my toddler with me so I seem like a mom-in-the-know rather than a creepy stranger who reads too much YA. People are way less weird about you suggesting books to their kid when you have a kid with you too.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:38 AM on May 20, 2011


I go to bookstores mainly to handle books, even if I don't buy them, to look for certain authors (if it's a used store) because I want to own everything they wrote, and to maybe find something new and cheap enough to want to take a chance on. I do straighten sometimes, but have never felt the desire to reshelve anything. I have never cared about editions, though hardcovers last longer of course, and I can be attracted to anything with nice cover art.

My own personal compulsion: When I am depressed from reading Metafilter threads about peak oil, climate change, and pollution, I go to the used bookstore and buy something that I think future generations might like to read after their Kindles go dark forever, whether or not I ever read it. Perhaps after a hard day in the fields my descendents will be able to escape into the complete works of Shakespeare or find books on useful herbs and canning helpful.
posted by emjaybee at 7:41 AM on May 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


Sadly, emjaybee, I think that not long after their Kindles go dark forever, they'll be using all of our books as fuel...
posted by likeso at 7:47 AM on May 20, 2011


I would like it known that robocop is bleeding is responsible for me remembering (and acting on) a phone full of book photos. My poor, poor wallet...
posted by sodium lights the horizon at 8:03 AM on May 20, 2011


As a bookstore clerk, I would say that these little obsessions annoy the hell out of me, if I didn't have my own peculiar list spawned by my profession. When I go into other bookstores, which is usually, by the way, under duress, I tend to automatically straighten display books, stick worn or edged copies under unmangled ones, and alphabetize all the backstock, while comparing it to our own selection (usually with rage and/or bemusement). If the place is a wreck, I'll go find the employee(s) and watch them for a bit to see what it is that's so much more damn important than keeping an orderly store. This is probably an illness. I'd detail my obsessions that take place in my own store, but they would probably take a few years of therapy and a couple thousand pages to unearth.
posted by Football Bat at 8:15 AM on May 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


she doesn't read the books, she merely buys them. Whenever my husband mentions a book he is reading or a new book he is thinking about reading she either a) says, "Oh yes! I have that on my kindle but I haven't read it yet." or b) she writes the title down on a piece of paper to add it to her collection later.

This is doing it wrong. The really killer thing about the Kindle is the "send preview to Kindle" link on the Amazon book pages. Now when people recommend you books, you can have a chapter of it within a few clicks. And you don't have to take flying leaps of faith on books you might never read any longer. Just take the preview, read it, and buy it only if absorbed.

(I know you should be able to do the same thing while whittling down the stack of browsed books you've been carting around the bookshop waiting for a seat to become open, but by then I usually have buyers' nerves and am in no rational place to decide whether I like a book or not.)
posted by bonaldi at 8:41 AM on May 20, 2011


> Kattulus: I don't know how I would've handled your situation either. It's like receiving a book from someone, only to find out it's the same book you gave him a few years back. Ugh.
posted by pleasebekind at 8:48 AM on May 20, 2011


Former bookshop worker here...

I worked with a manager who was extremely particular about the distance book spines needed to be from the edge of the shelf, so not only do I tidy books in bookstores but I ensure that they are 1-2 inches back from the shelf.
posted by Alice Russel-Wallace at 9:55 AM on May 20, 2011


I don't straighten the shelves, thankfully, but I have the terrible habit of going to the Strand in NYC's one dollar book racks, which are usually 50% books about business or politics, and 50% 1950s-era hardcovers that nobody would ever want to read. I invariably buy 5-10 or so of the latter, with no intention of ever reading them. But my copy of A History of American Tariffs and Import Law 1870-1920 looks great on my shelf. And my copy of 'Inside Russia Today' from '55 - "Is Co-existence Possible?"

Does buying old gorgeous hardcover just for show make me a vain person?
posted by Apolon at 10:30 AM on May 20, 2011


I finally found a beautify copy of Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy that way.* But it's a sort of ersatz thrill, like being a kitten pouncing on string but imagining it's a tiger on the hunt.

Quite an ersatz thrill, I agree.
posted by ersatz at 10:34 AM on May 20, 2011


The site has an "About You" page.
posted by ersatz at 10:34 AM on May 20, 2011


5. If someone attractive, at a party or social event, let’s say, was to ask you who you’re favorite author is, what would you say?

Strunk and White, The Elements of Style.
posted by Jubal Kessler at 11:21 AM on May 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


I do this at hardware stores. "This is a grade *8* bolt, not a grade *10*! Tsk, tsk, tsk."

My favorite hardware stores are very like my favorite bookstores, come to think of it. Tall, closely-spaced shelves filled with a mixture of old friends and unexpected treasures, visually chaotic but actually well organized. A slightly ragged-looking but deeply knowledgeable proprietor.

I don't have an urge to hide the specialized sawblade or clever catch for a future visit, though. My hardware store compulsions are weaker than my bookstore compulsions.
posted by hattifattener at 12:28 PM on May 20, 2011


Does buying old gorgeous hardcover just for show make me a vain person?

Books do furnish a room.
posted by betweenthebars at 8:14 PM on May 20, 2011


I have many, many books I've bought and never gotten around to reading. But in the spirit of advancing technology I've also started buying apps for my iPod and never running them.

(We won't talk about my CD collection.)
posted by Lazlo at 10:06 PM on May 20, 2011


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