I’ve always thought of book therapy as a random way of making myself feel better when I’m having a bad day. That’s what I’ve always called it. I have a bad day and immediately want to go to the bookstore. I thought about the concept of using new books to make me feel better a type of retail therapy like what other women use when they really just need to go buy a new outfit or new shoes to salvage their bad day or week. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve done that before too. Have a bad week? Buy yourself something pretty, it’ll make you feel better. I rarely spend much money when I do this, seeing as it’s usually a random impulse buy and I know better than to be wasting tons of money on something like that. I try to keep it below $20. But the concept is the same right?
I’m beginning to think that it is the same, but is also very different. As much as I love buying new things, or ordering new things online and the feeling I get when they show up, it’s nowhere near the same as what I feel when I’m holding new books. A new pair of shoes, while you can wear them and they can most definitely boost confidence and make you feel amazing, can’t give you hours and hours of entertainment and enjoyment. Not the way a book can. You don’t have to break in a new book. Maybe it doesn’t make you look any better, but it can change you in other ways. It can change the way you think about things, maybe make you look at the world a little differently.
I have books that I make a point of revisiting every year. Books that I read as a preteen and have been reading regularly since. They are so tattered at this point that I know I need better copies, and yet I can’t part with the torn and worn pages of those original copies. When old shoes wear out, you can’t wear them anymore, and they will inevitably end up in the trash. When they no longer fit or the heels are broken or falling off, what good are they anymore? But when an old book becomes slightly more worn, at least in the hands of a book lover, you know it’s been very loved. It’s been read too many times to count, and is still considered worthy of sitting on your shelf with other possibly brand new books in much better shape.
These books have a soul. They have something so special about them that even if you do get your hands on a newer and better copy of them, that newer copy will never hold the same significance with you. One of these books for me is Anne Rice’s Memnoch the Devil. That book helped me move past a lot of my family’s beliefs so that I could come to terms with my own beliefs. I first read it when I was 14, and I have been reading it nearly every year since. It never gets old for me, no matter how often I’ve read each page or how I already know what’s coming. That book helped shape me as a person and make me more of who I am. My first copy is a mass market paperback and is falling apart, and I do have another nicer copy of it, a nice big first edition hardcover. That hardcover has never been read by me. It’s a collector’s item for me, whereas the smaller torn one is worth more to me personally. It has been with me through too many moves to count, it’s been my “plane book” (it’s my go-to for anytime I have a long flight ahead of me) for years, and it’s been on my bookshelf longer than almost any other book I own.
Why does this matter? This book makes me feel better. I immediately feel better when I’m holding it or reading it. I have always been under the impression that it was because when I’m reading, I’m so lost in the book that the problems I may be dealing with in my own life disappear. Which is most definitely the case, but what if you aren’t reading? Does it still help to just hold or handle books?
In my opinion, yes. It’s not in the buying or owning of them, or in the reading. It’s a combination of all of it. My book collection is nowhere near what it probably should be, probably still under 300 books, but it’s enough to keep me busy. Why am I under the impression that it helps just to hold them? Good question.
I, for some unexplained reason, feel physically better when I’m surrounded by them. The smell of them, the feel of old pages, the look of them. All of it. The smell of old books is unlike any other, and nothing even comes close for me. Last night I have to leave my day job early due to a killer migraine that I woke up with yesterday that I just could not shake no matter how many painkillers I took or how much water I drank. Nothing helped. I refused to get nothing done at all, so I decided to work on the file I have on my computer, the one I started a while back to keep track of all of my books. I call it my library file, just a way of keeping track of the books I have and books I still want to get my hands on.
Point is, when I finally did start working on this file last night, I began to feel better. Pulling books from their shelves to enter their info into the file, flipping through pages, touching them, it made the migraine completely disappear within the first 15 minutes of handling the books. Yes, I realize this may be a total fluke. Trust me. But I’ve been paying more attention to how I feel after i handle my books or after I buy new ones, and it seems to be a trend. It doesn’t matter how terrible my day has been, if I can make it to the bookstore, or even just to our Wal-Mart, to buy a new book, even if I’m not reading it right away I will feel better.
Maybe this only works for me, but I doubt it. And I am far from saying that this will actually do any good for just any ailments. I’m not saying you should go out and say “fuck it” to actually taking painkillers or seeing a doctor about something affecting your health. I’m just saying that handling books works for me when nothing else seems to, both on an emotional level and a physical one to some extent. It’s my own personal antidepressant on the days when I really need a pick-me-up. And I plan on using it that way for a long time to come.