Overheard at the Library by Deb Jess

Earlier this week I attended a reading given by the incomparable Elizabeth Berg. The library meeting room was packed–and at noon on a Tuesday!

Elizabeth was gracious, elegant, and so polished. She’d clearly done this before. For example, on OPRAH three times.

Oprah. Three. Times.

Whoops! I fell down there. Was feeling a little faint. I’ll pull myself together. Where’s my brown paper bag?

I introduced myself to some women sitting next to me: turns out they were in a book club! Yes, you’ve got my number: I was doing the Driving Sideways dance for them, forwards and backwards and left and right. They were just plain fun, and I do hope they contact me for a visit.

As people streamed out after the reading, I overheard the following from some very primped and polished women sitting behind me: “Novels? No, I only get them from the library. I don’t buy novels.”

(Here. Let me pass you my brown paper bag. This one has whiskey in it.)

I understand that for some people of limited financial means, borrowing books and resources from the library is done of necessity. For these high maintenance women? Yachting is done of necessity. Attending book signings and emphasizing your refusal to buy the book of the featured author? I’m still scratching my head on that one.

I couldn’t even imagine NOT buying novels. I want to be surrounded by books. I want them in shelves on every wall of my house. I want them piled by my bed, stacked by my favorite reading chair, tucked into my glove compartment for train and traffic emergencies. I love the smell of books, the feel of them, and above all, the words in them. Like a possessive lover, I need to make them mine. I don’t want to share them with any other readers. (Well, unless I know you. Then I am happy to lend you a few. Because I know where you live. And I’m not afraid to come over and eat all your Doritos and drink all your Red Zin until you give me my babies back.)

I attribute my feeling about books, about reading and writing, to my parents (see! I AM going to bring this home for a landing on the topic!), who kept our house stocked with books, who journaled and read and bought books and had writer friends over for dinner while we spied on them through the heating grate in the dining room ceiling.

One of the very nice women I met at the signing asked if my parents read to me while I was growing up.

“Oh yes! And I requested The Rescuers so many times they actually hid the book from me so we could read something else.”

So Mom (and Dad)? Thank you for making reading a priority in our house. Because of you, I will buy novels for the rest of my life.

Driving Sideways by Jess RileyDeb Jess

14 Replies to “Overheard at the Library by Deb Jess”

  1. Oh, Elizabeth Berg was my first literary crush. I adored THE YEAR OF PLEASURES. Made me feel like I had NO BUSINESS putting words to Word2000. And I did not mind AT ALL. I’d have so been there at noon on a Tuesday.

    And I’d be there at noon on a Tuesday for you, too, Jess. I would.

  2. That IS weird. The germophobe in me wishes I didn’t have to use the library, but I can’t afford to buy EVERYTHING. I still do buy way more books than I can afford, though. Especially now that I have more writer friends to support.

    Great post, Jess and here’s to Moms and Dads who pass along the joy of reading to their kids.

  3. Kalynne, I had the same reaction to Elizabeth Berg! And you are so, so sweet to say that you’d have come at noon on a Tuesday for me, too. 🙂

    Joanne, I hear you–book-buying does feel like an addiction! I think I spent more on books last year than on clothing!!! LOL! And yes, absolutely–I also wish I could buy even more, too.

  4. I spend more on books than clothing too! I just keep telling The Oppressor that we can write them off on the taxes.

    Love this post, Jess. I’m grateful for all my childhood reading too! And I wish we lived close enough that I could borrow your books and then hang onto them until you’re forced to come drink in my kitchen.

  5. I will always thank my parents for giving me the love of reading. I still get a lot at the library as I can’t afford my reading habit- but I buy more than my fair share too- I think last year it came in as just over a book a week. Yikes.

  6. Oh, The Rescuers. LOVED that book. Must go buy a copy for my niece.

    Great post. I’m a big book buyer, too. I have to admit, though, that until I started writing I hadn’t thought much about how writers get paid. I looked upon my tendency to buy books vs take them from the library, or even borrow them from friends, as a weakness on my part. A demonstration of my slightly possessive tendencies. Of my need to gather materialistic belonging I love around me… I spend a fortune on books. A fortune. At least now that I understand the business, I can claim I do it in part to support other writers. It’s not a shopping addiction. Really. (Now, shoes on the other hand…)

    And going to a book signing and refusing to buy the book when you have the means to (or don’t already own it) is downright rude.

  7. Danielle: I use that same justification!!! (“Yes, but you can’t write your XBox games off on taxes!”)

    Eileen: Hey, I think I’m also a member of the New Book a Week club! My purchasing strategy has evolved where I now prioritize books written by lesser-known authors (I love discovering new writers, plus the big names don’t need my support, really…THOSE I get from the library). It’s a kind of triage. 🙂

    Maureen: yeah, the women clearly had the means to buy the book but were making a point about (and taking pride in) NOT doing so. Perhaps they’d been burned by too many stinkers in the past. And I’d never accuse anyone with too many books of being materialistic…no way! LOL I’d accuse them of being brilliant and awesome.

  8. You’ll not only love reading the rest of your life, Jess, you’ll love writing the rest of your life as well!

    And, not only do I buy books for myself, I buy the most loved books for friends — sharing in a permanent way.

  9. The Rescuers…memories. It remains a great, great book. Gotta get it for the Tiny Tot. Thanks for the great post. Some of my favorite photos of me as a kid are of little me reading these HUGE books to my bears and other friends on the couch. And I remember to this day my Mom getting me to climb up on her bed after she had a surgery and me snuggling in beside her so she could read a book to me.

  10. I promised myself I would get through my TBR pile before I bought any more books into the house.

    Except for this one, because everyone’s raving about it…
    oh, and that one, its for my book club.
    and this one, just look at the pretty cover!
    and that one, its my favorite author
    and this one… I can’t live without it.

    aww, screw it.


  11. Larramie, absolutely–books are such wonderful gifts! 🙂

    Michael, what a sweet memory! I also have to recommend Miss Twiggley’s Tree: I love, love LOVED that book!

    December: I made myself the same promise! And promptly broke it. Thanks for the congrats!

  12. books are MUCH more important than any other purchase and even though my husband keeps building more bookshelves we have stacks of them in every room. It’s the only clutter that doesn’t bother me!

  13. I am calling my parents and thanking them for always having books around! It lead to a lifelong love of books, a career that demands that I read (English Teacher) and a much loved book club.

    My brother and sister and I used to play a game where my sister’s bed (it was the only double) was a boat and we had to all read to keep it afloat. The three of us would lie there for hours.

    I am hoping that boat will exist in my house and I will gladly join my three kids and keep it afloat.

  14. Oh, my husband laments my intimate relationship with Amazon.com…And Barnes & Noble, and so on. Joanne–you make me laugh about your germophobia with libraries. Mine isn’t germs so much as the musty smell. Ever since I was really little the smell of old books used to make me itch–still does. I’m happy to share my favorite books but usually prefer to buy my friends a copy b/c invariably people forget to return them and I like to hang on to my faves–especially when others are looking for recommendations I can go right to the shelves to see!
    Oh, Jess, we’re all so excited for your huge launch!!!

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