Gimbling in the Wabe – My Beautiful Addiction

by Sharon Browning

Hi, my name is Sharon.  I’m a library request addict.

It used to be I would only request a few books a week from my local library. Books I’d been wanting to read for a while or books that friends had recommended, occasionally a title I’d read about in the Sunday “Books” section of my local newspaper. It was a good system – read a few books, turn them back in, pick up a few more. Sometimes I would peruse the shelves, but as my local library is older and somewhat small, there isn’t a lot of variety in my preferred genre, so it’s mainly my pick up location for interlibrary loan requests (although the librarians are always good for a smile and a friendly “hello”).

My gateway drug to out-of-control requesting was awards lists:  Hugo Awards, World Fantasy Awards, Pulitzer Prizes. At first I would just request the winners, but before long, I started requesting from the shortlists of nominees. I figured that if they were up for a prestigious award, they had to be good, right? That led to scrutinizing longlists of nominees – National Book Awards, Locus Awards, PEN Literary Awards, BSFAs, Nebulas, Man Booker Awards – anything that looked engaging to my own whims. My list of book requests swelled from two to three a week, to six or seven, more sometimes.

What allowed me to feel like I was still in control was that lot of other people were also requesting the same books, and sometimes – oftentimes – my request would go into a queue. That kept me from being deluged with books all at once, usually. When I requested a very popular book, say, Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl or J.K. Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy, the wait could take weeks or even months. (The longest queue I’ve ever been in was for William Kent Krueger’s newest Cork O’Connor book – over 1,200 requests at one point- we love William Kent Krueger here in Minnesota!).

Yet while I could evidence a patience for books in queue, my desire for even more books worthy of reading grew. I didn’t even notice the warning signs.

I began to subscribe to publisher’s newsletters:  Orbit, Angry Robot, Random House, Hatchett, Penguin, William Morrow, HarperCollins, Alfred A. Knopf, Greywolf, but especially, Tor. I love Tor. They publish exactly the kind of books I love to read:  fantasy, speculative fiction, science fiction. Jo Walton, Catherynne M. Valente, Wesley Chu, Max Gladstone, Melinda Snodgrass, Jacqueline Carey, John Scalzi… So many books! And I wanted them all!

I also “friended” some wonderfully accessible authors on Facebook and Twitter, witty and thoughtful folks who graciously share publication information (their own and others’) and their personal recommendations. Who better to share insight into great reading than from those who make a living writing, eh?

My library queue was starting to get out of control. It grew from ten, a dozen, fifteen, twenty.

And then the bottom fell out.

I became inundated with lists of upcoming books. Books that were releasing this month, next month, the best of upcoming summer reads or fall reads, not-to-be-missed new releases, must-read this and can’t-miss that, lists and catalogs and recommendations simply bursting out of my email box, from my Facebook and Twitter feeds – and dang, there were so many darned good looking, enticing, I-gotta-get-my-hands-on-these books!

I began requesting scads of books that not only were new, but had not been released yet! It was almost a competition to see how quickly a I could request a book that had just been announced. If I was quick  enough, I might be one of the first to read an exciting new release. Delay could mean being in the triple digits of requesters, not in the top ten. My request queue started to be punctuated by books “on order” as well as books already in circulation, and I got a keen sense of pleasure at seeing my request being low as the number of requesters bunched up behind me. Winning!!!

My queue inched up to two dozen, thirty, then three dozen requests, more. I was getting daily emails from the library letting me know that a book I requested was ready for me to pick up. I was juggling books:  which ones did I have to read first because they could not be renewed? I would let books sit for three weeks, and then renew them online without ever cracking their covers. Sometimes the three week cycle would pass twice before I decided that enough was enough and I would have to read that book before the third – and final – renewal had passed.

And yes, sometimes the time burden was too great, and I had to return books that I hadn’t read. I started a list of those books, and re-requested them, keeping track of if they had a long queue, planning out a strategy for which books could wait and which I needed for instant gratification.

Once, the pressure of having so many books sitting there accusing me of neglect was so great, I returned all of them unread, every last one (after carefully jotting down their titles so I could request them again – I needed my safety net!). It was surprising how many of them didn’t seem quite so urgent after they were no longer languishing in my “to be read” pile, and I have to admit, I felt a great weight rise off my shoulders. But before long – probably no more than a day – I had more books to be picked up, and I never, ever stopped placing requests.

Now my queue is over 45 books long (I think the cut-off is 50). I just picked up two more today, books that I am so excited to read, I literally do not know which one to start first. (“But I took two back I had finished!” I plaintively whine to no one in particular.) I have two that have been read, but I’m still working on reviews, so need them close at hand. There are three others sitting beside me that I need to read – and want to read – as well, but not as desperately as the ones I picked up today, so they will have to wait. Unfortunately, none of them are renewable, so I have my work cut out for me.

Oh, and look – two more in transit. They should be at the library in a day or two.

I’m doomed.

But you know what?  It’s a wonderful doom to be living under.

I realize – believe me, I truly realize – how many people would love to be able to stagger under my addiction. I am incredibly lucky that at this time in my life I have the means and the time to be able to sit and read, and contemplate reading, so many books, day in and day out. I am literally living a dream, my dream.

This addiction of mine? I’m going to ride it as long as I can. Right now, I don’t want to be cured. I will fight any intervention. I refuse to be ashamed. I embrace it. I glory in it. While I can. While I can.

And now, my friends, I’ve gone babbling on far too long. Now it’s time to read. After all, these books can’t be renewed, and the clock is ticking.

~ Sharon Browning

(Postscript – I originally wrote this Gimbling in 2014, and am posting this updated version today as a wistful adieu, for I start a new job next week and will have to curtail my happy requesting addiction in the face of ‘not enough hours in a day’. Oh, I’ll still be reading, and writing about reading, but of necessity at a more moderated pace. But then, all good things must come to an end – it was fun while it lasted!)

Related Posts