For the two decades leading up to 2018, I worked in a very high-stress job. I worked in countries where I didn’t speak the language. I travelled all the time. I spent more than a hundred nights a year in hotels. Working hours were long. Sleeping hours were short.
On the whole, I thought I coped well. I didn’t get addicted to drink or drugs. I didn’t get ill. I just… got used to being stressed all the time.
Except, in retrospect, that’s not really true. I became angrier as the years went by. I withdrew into myself. I substituted food for sleep and eventually pushed myself into type two diabetes.
I’ve stopped now.
It took me more than six months to believe that. To not check to see when my next call was. To not wake at 05.30 so that I could be at my mail by 06.00.
Now that the diabetes is under control and my life isn’t lived out of a small suitcase, I’m starting to get some perspective and realise who I had become. Diabetes produces mood swings. I think I was the only one who didn’t notice. I know I was very fortunate that people put up with me and that I’m even more fortunate to have stopped while I still have a life to live.
A big part of that life is reading. It’s always been a big part of my life. Even at my most stressed, I made the time to read sixty to a hundred novels a year. Books were my safe space. A reaffirmation of my identity. A release from pressure.
Which may be why I didn’t recognise until recently that I’d grown addicted to buying books. More books than I can possibly read. I would sit in my hotel room and browse audible and amazon for books. Being able to press that ‘Buy now’ button and have the book delivered instantly gave me a sense of control, of effortless achievement and of stowing away treasure for future days when I would finally have time to read.
If the books I was buying had been physical books, my house would soon have looked like this:
Perhaps then, I would have known I had a problem but the books were all virtual and, on average, each book cost me the same as cup of coffee or a bottle of beer. It’s clear to me now that virtual bookshelves cloak and addiction to buying books.
Of course, I knew I bought a lot of books but I didn’t really understand what that meant until I recently migrated my ebooks and audiobooks from GoodReads to LibraryThing. There were 2101 of them. I’d only read about nine hundred of them.
The migration process isn’t perfect, so I’ve been working my way through my books on LibraryThing, correcting covers, publication dates and acquisition dates and fixing confusions between authors and narrators. I’ve been working backward by year of publication. I’m 580 books in and I’ve just reached 2016.
I’ve had to accept several things as I went through this process:
- There are many books on my shelves that I don’t recognise by title.
- There are books that I pre-ordered that have sat unread for more than two years.
- The acquisition dates sometimes show a run of many days with at least one book being bought each day
- There are books on my shelves I no longer want to read.
All of this tells me that I’d lost control of what I was doing. That the act of clicking on that ‘Buy now’ button had become a satisfier in its own right. That I’d become addicted not to reading but to buying books. Suddenly, in the harsh and perhaps distorting mirror of hindsight, I see myself as someone sitting alone in a hotel room buying cheap jewellery off the QVC channel.
There are some good things though:
- I accept I have a problem and I will fix it.
- As I look at the books on my shelves, I frequently find myself going, ‘Oooh, I REALLY want to read that!’
- I have enough books left to last me for the next eight years.
I know I’ll continue to buy new books. How could I not? I mean the 22nd book in Dana Stabenow’s Kate Shugak series has just been published and the new Harry Dresden book comes out this month and I really want to try the Thaddeus Lewis mysteries and…
I’m determined to make most of the books I read for the next year to be books that I already own. That’s the first step that I’ve promised myself.