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Loving books in the time of Shelfari

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MANILA, Philippines - Gege Cruz Sugue’s fictional worlds involve Jose Saramago and Margaret Atwood characters and a farmer named Eda Mame in Farmville. She teaches college students, conducts communication workshops for corporate learners, provides marketing consultant services, and writes for corporate clients. She is part of a shelfari (www.shelfari.com) based book club called Flips Flipping Pages. Gege blogs about her booklust at http://gegeflipspages.blogspot.com.

“And how long do you think we can keep up this coming and going?” he asked.

Florentino Ariza had kept his answer ready for fifty-three years, seven months, and eleven days and nights.

“Forever,” he said.  Love in the Time of Cholera, Gabriel Garcia Marquez

I have this shameful fantasy. I find my husband in the arms of another woman. Shocked beyond consolation, I drive, dive to the nearest bookstore. In a frenzy, I ravage shelves and grab everything to ease the pain and fill the aching hole in my heart. My book lust would be impossible to sate, but I go on in my bitter, half-crazed state, putting books in shopping carts. When, finally, my tears are depleted and only Deepak Chopras and Dan Browns are left on the shelves, I head to the counter and swipe my husband’s platinum Amex. 

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That is my adulterous revenge. 

Because books those glorious, beguiling books are my lovers, hopeless addictions, the seduction I battle with constantly. My husband is jealous of only one thing my books. The love of my life that causes him agony my book collection and the avarice to have more.

This never-to-happen fantasy only flashes in the video factory of my mind whenever I lustfully, longingly leer at beautiful, sexy books in a bookstore. When the budget is finite and the desire is infinite. When I fondle a book I desire, I experience the push and pull of coveting and tempering that brings me into a state of guilty confusion, like that of a virgin trying to stay so. 

Loving books is a sickness that turns its victims into depraved lunatics. When did this sickness start? Like most other adult dysfunctions, the mother is to blame. My mother taught me to read when I was three. Most kids perform for adults by singing or dancing. My mother showed off my talents by making me read the front page of a newspaper.

I started with the Ladybird series those charming, little books that unwittingly became gateway drugs to this addiction. I read Rapunzel and Rumpelstiltskin, mesmerized by worlds so different from mine. The first book that made me cry was The Little Match Girl, the story of a poor girl dying on New Year’s Eve. Books then became emotion-enhancing pills. 

Early signs of a malady, a malaise that can only be stilled by reading a book.

Loving books is not just about reading. It’s something physical, sensual. Author Anne Fadiman calls it carnal when the book’s physical being gives a booklover joy. Its weight, the tactile delight of paper, the sound of flipping pages, the heady scent of a worn-out edition. 

One book is never enough. To love books is to want many. 

Again, my mother was to blame for this avarice. She and Nancy Drew. It started with one book, which I devoured in a few hours. Nancy Drew lived an exciting life, certainly more exciting than mine. With Nancy Drew, I traveled to Cairo, London, Bangkok; rode a stagecoach; drove a convertible; joined the circus; and had a boyfriend named Ned. Mom gave me more. In multiples. Every birthday, Christmas, any occasion was an excuse to bring me more, until finally I completed all 56 of the classic series.

The beginning of an addiction to accumulation.

Now, here I am with 2,000 books competing for shelf space, knowing that this lifetime would not be enough for me to read them all. The craving remains uncurbed. 

There’s another hunger for a soulmate. Not the romantic kind. But a literary soulmate, somebody whose shelf mirrors mine, somebody who was as spellbound as I was by Saramago’s Blindness, as wickedly amused as I was by Palahniuk’s Fight Club, but would understand when sometimes, I just want cheesy motivational fluff from Fulghum. This soulmate abhors New Age, finds Dan Brown overrated, and will never ever finish Lord of the Rings. My soulmate is strangely magnetized by books with penguins on orange spines. He or she is addicted to craft books, collects biographies but never read them, and loves the Christian musings of Don Miller. This soulmate is only slightly embarrassed to admit to never having read Harry Potter. And he or she has fallen in love with the Bible’s book of Exodus. 

I must have started aching for a literary soulmate a decade ago when I read Patrick Suskind’s Perfume. No one in my circle of friends had heard of it. Perfume is the story of a diabolical character who feeds on the scent of virgins close to death. Not common reader fare. But I felt this strange need to find somebody with whom I can talk about the book. But I was afraid nobody would understand. 

Several years later, I chanced upon Jose Saramago’s Blindness, a story of an epidemic of blindness. In a fictional land, people started seeing nothing but a sea of white. Anyone who tries to cure or care for the blind goes blind as well. Chaos and hysteria ensue. Followed by the loss of human dignity and the surfacing of man’s basest instincts. It was a fantastic story, and again, I had no one to share the experience with.

In Marquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera, those infected with cholera were quarantined in a riverboat. Shelfari is today’s quarantine for those infected with bibliophilia. In this online community, we are free to discuss without shame, judgment, and only with a tinge of guilt, how we have taken part in the killing of trees for the sake of literature. Here we expose our darkest, most embarrassing secret acts of excess book love. We confess to kissing bookstore floors, reaching for hidden stash. We admit how bookstore warehouse sales turn us into raving, frothing-in-the-mouth maniacs. Some talk of locking their doors while they meticulously, obsessively cover their books in plastic. Someone confessed, she’s waded through waist-deep flood waters, keeping her books above her head, worrying more about keeping her book dry than catching cholera. We will maim ourselves and others for a chance to wrestle a long-dreamt-of book away from somebody else. In this time of online communities, Shelfari is the world where we can insulate ourselves against those who don’t understand our affliction.

Have I found my soulmate yet? No. We are too diverse in personalities and book preferences. When we discussed Azar Nafisi’s Reading Lolita in Teheran, everyone lambasted the book; I was the only one who looked beyond the sedate, academic style of narration to find something to love, to appreciate about it. Florentino Ariza waited 53 years and was willing to wait forever for the love of his life. Maybe my search will take 53 years, maybe forever. In the meantime, in Shelfari, I am embraced by those who are not afraid to catch this sickness, this perverse disease of loving books.

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