An Addict Confesses

Reading & Writing



t’s a new year; time to face facts. I’ve decided to come clean on this blog and admit what I’ve known for years, but could never face up to. I can’t help myself. I am an addict. I can’t get enough of them, ever, and the ones that used to do the trick are now no longer enough. As each month passes I need something stronger. Books. I love the sight and smell of old paperbacks and new ones, I love them whether they’re on Kindle or Penguin, but now the addiction is out of control.

For several years now I’ve tried to believe those stories about TV and film being the most important artistic outlets of the 21st century, and that you’re a snob if you don’t watch ‘Boardwalk Empire’ or understand the underlying ironies beneath ‘The Only Way Is Essex’ or ‘Strictly Come Dancing’. (Actually, taking those last two shows, even the titles don’t make sense. The first isn’t a pun but the substitution of the wrong word in a familiar phrase, and the second started out about sixty years ago as ‘Come Dancing’, the world’s most boring programme. Then some BBC jobsworth remembered that the film ‘Strictly Ballroom’ had reinvented ballroom dancing, so they mashed the two together into the sort of ESL phrase you’d see misprinted on a shop window in Whitechapel.)

But TV isn’t very interesting at all, barring the odd box set of ‘Breaking Bad’, and even that goes on a bit. Books, however, they don’t let you down, and there are infinite riches to discover.

Right now I’m reading ‘The Summer Isles’ by the mysteriously underrated Ian R Macleod,  ‘Bitten By The Tarantula’ by Julian Maclaren-Ross (dead for some 40 years but now finally being hailed as a genius) and Norman Collins’ forgotten London epic ‘London Belongs To Me.’  I’ve just sent away for JB Priestley’s ‘Angel Pavement’, Edgar Box’s ‘Death Likes It Hot’, ‘The History of Vauxhall Gardens’ and ‘The Great Coaching Inns of London’.

Somebody please stop me before my shelves collapse. Although they probably won’t collapse a/ because I had them steel-reinforced (yes, really – those shelves in the photo have no central pillars because they’re built around a metal skeleton) and b/ because I now have 245 books to read on my Kindle. If I lived to be 150 I wouldn’t get through all the books I’ve bought. Is there some kind of 12-Step programme I can take to make me give up this debilitating habit?


27 comments on “An Addict Confesses”

  1. Stephen Groves says:

    Hi Chris,

    Welcome to the club!

    All Best

    P.S. Someone better start counting their body parts.

  2. James says:

    I sympathise but can’t help I’m afraid, as I too am slowly becoming entombed in a room full of books.

  3. Dan Terrell says:

    Edgar Box (Gore Vidal) wrote just three books and all of them are really good. Great fun among the folks with the “long green” of Long Island and New York City. “Death Likes It Hot” was particularly enjoyable.
    As to your book habit, we knew you were addicted, even if you didn’t. (Case in point: All those London books you’ve been buying, trying not to buy, squirreling away.)We noticed the “problem”, but didn’t want to speak up and there’s a term for that. And mainly we didn’t want to say because we didn’t want to face up to our own overdue self-examination.
    All I can say is thank god I have a forbearing wife, who likes to decorate around filled bookshelves, random stacks of books, and single books here, there, and everywhere. She only worries when she finds me standing in the front doorway fretting and pacing over the late arrival of a book order.
    Pisst, if you’re ever caught short, I’ll front you a couple of reads until you can get caught up with your main supplier. All I ask, all I ask man, is two B&M adventures per annum. Deal?

  4. J.Folgard says:

    Well, I just spent several moments gazing at the full-size picture of those shelves, cheering at the books I’ve got and scribbling down some interesting-looking titles for further reading… I may be doomed too. Oh, and I also love comics. It will all end well, right..?

  5. Monica Weller says:

    …..just taken my first Bryant and May off the library shelves. Addicted… reading till 3 in the morning. My partner came out with this whilst chatting to the lovely library manager and waiting to get his book stamped: “We don’t talk at home, we just read”.

  6. agatha hamilton says:

    I don’t know about a 12 step detox programme, but there are certainly definable stages on the route to addiction. First, buying a book because you want to read it there and then. Next, buying books by the same author or on the same subject that you intend to read later, and probably will. Soon you find yourself buying books you know you will never read but because they fill a gap in the author or subject, and finally you find yourself buying duplicates, if they’re rare, for the unlikely reason that you may lose the originals. I think we’re lucky to have this addiction. It might all be so much worse.
    Wasn’t X Trapnell, in the Dance to the Music of Time series, based on Maclaren-Ross?

  7. Tom Ruffles says:

    London Belongs to Me isn’t forgotten – I picked up a copy on the strength of Sidney Gilliat’s film – but I agree it could be better known.

  8. Vivienne says:

    Well, do get round to reading London Belongs to Me, which is wonderful, and then try to catch the film- it was showing last year at the BfI so may still be out there – really faithful to the book. I’m not supposed to buy books until I’ve catalogued what I’ve got, but they still seem to arrive somehow.

  9. Helen Martin says:

    I notice that (naturally)some of the books above are of your own writing. That should help. Not building any more shelves should help. Not installing any shelves in Barcelona (or am I too late with this one?) is good. Feed any stray volumes to the lions. My four panels of 8 shelves each are groaning, the piles continue to creep across the floor and pile up on the bedside tables, in the living room, and in the bathroom. And that doesn’t even start to deal with the milk crates of books that have appeared. No, there is no real cure.I started book crossing thinking that that would help to get my “old” books out of the house. It may have but it brought even more in since that’s when the floor piles really started to grow.

  10. Fiona says:

    In the book group I run I think we all suffer from the same addiction. One member confesses books are taking over his apartment. I’ve added bookshelves and they are still multiplying. As John Waters says, “If you go home with somebody, and they don’t have books, don’t f*ck ’em!” and “You have to remember that it is impossible to commit a crime while reading a book.” Although, I think the second one is a challenge to Admin!

    Oh, long story but I now have two spare tickets for The Grand Budapest Hotel at the BFI. Not planned – just found out I won’t be able to go. Also found out the father of someone I work with was the Art Director on that film. Said it was filmed on the East German/Polish border and that there was a really strange absence of middle-aged people – all very old or very young. When the wall came down in the 80s all the younger East Germans left for West Germany – hence the gap.

  11. snowy says:

    As you have not yet resorted to filling the horizontal gaps, you should be OK for a while yet.

    But I think the GI Diet book could probably go without many tears. And as this is the 21C most of the recipe books could also get re-homed.

    Before anybody scolds me consider that:

    1000s of recipes are on-line for free.
    We might hold onto a huge recipe book for years, but only ever cook one dish from it.
    We may have a recipe book that gets constant use, but only as a way to store all those little bits of paper clippings, recipe cards, hand written notes etc.

    Traditionally these would have been transcribed to a notebook with personal tweaks to the recipe*. Guarded against rivals, shared only with a very select few.

    But time is better spent these days, so if you have a Knidle or similar scan in the recipes you use, donate the book and reclaim the space.

    Don’t have an e-reader, Ipad etc. Keep an eye open for a photo album in a thift shop, [the sort with the peelable plastic covered pages]. Scan and print out the few recipes from books, mount them in the album along with all the scraps and cuttings. Instant [well nearly] personal recipe book with wipeable pages, that you can add to/edit at will. No need to have dozens of barely used books cluttering up the place.

    [*I still rather like the idea of recipes being passed down the generations in handwritten books. And it need not just be recipes, they can mingle in with other things from the most prosaic household hint to poetry, silly verses or family stories.]

    Having wobbled off topic [as per usual], London Belongs… is on DVD. Bit pricey, instead try searching out the triple disc set with Scrooge, Green for Danger and LBTM bundled together. Cheaper and very good value with the inclusion of G4D

  12. RobertR says:

    Have you done the even scarier prospect of cataloging them? A few years ago I had to box all my books up between flats – 30 boxes later, about 2,100 books – plus as I realised they were possibly the only thing I actually valued I made a note of the cover price shown (but admit I have never dared add all of that up). What I have also found myself doing in idle, non-reading moments is putting random titles into the web to see what it would cost to replace a copy should anything ever happen which can be quite alarming too

  13. andrea yang says:

    I come from a line of hoarders so I have two standard bookcases if something new is added something old must go.
    Unfortunately my Kindle is overloaded but that is not bothering the rest of the household just my wallet.

  14. Debra Matheney says:

    Not long after I married my husband 27 years ago he returned some books to the library for me. He elaborately explained to the poor clerk that he had signed me up for Overreaders Anonymous as my reading habit was ruining our marriage. Every time he looked at me my nose was in a book. She got ever so defensive and claimed no one had ever been harmed by reading. Maybe not by reading, but this book buying habit does have potential harm. I have to cull every week or two to accommodate the new books and this while using a Kindle for reading most fiction. There are 354 items on my Amazon wish list and I doubt I have EVER passed up the chance for entering a bookstore since the age of adulthood. Can I leave a bookstore without a purchase? What do you think? The fear of being without something to read is overwhelming and definitely drives my habit. There are far worse ones so I vote embrace it unless it has turned into a hoarding disorder. Just make sure all shelves are secure so they will not topple onto you.

    Happy book buying and reading,

  15. admin says:

    My sister-in-law insisted on giving me the GI Diet book. It’s going. We do use nearly all of the cookery books except the one on Burmese cooking, which is filled with ingredients that are impossible to find.

    What you can’t see is that the shelves are very deep and hold a second layer of books behind them. I learned to do this from Kim Newman.

  16. Jo W says:

    Hey Snowy, bad idea going to thrift shop(charity shop?) . They sell books too! When I can bring myself to clear out some of my books,usually because they are creeping across the floor, I now ask ‘im indoors to take them. Much safer that way. After all, that’s where many of them came from!

  17. Dan Terrell says:

    My name’s still Dan, but I’ve stood up again because… Well, all your stories have given me the courage to admit to myself, seriously, that books are more than overdone in my house. Nine boxes of books in the storage area, along with eleven of the long storage boxes filled with comics (no ECs though), five shelves of foreign language instruction books (left from our bricks and mortar school, but still good references), eighty-seven shelves of books with horizontal gaps filled), various cubbies stuffed full, bedside table tops, too, end of coffee table loaded, floor next to typing table, various randomly mushrooming piles, etc.
    This survey has left me shaken. And so many books after two career moves home from overseas which caused the selling off many, many pounds of books as over-the-government’s-shipping-allowance. And the Kindle so small and compact, but thankfully still not yet so full. (Some day we can confess how much vinyl and how many compact discs we each have, but that’s too much stress for today.
    Well, I for one feel better if cramped. And I swear never to actually count my books or establish and index file, although alpha by author once a decade is okay.
    I notice you have two posthumous collections of J.D. Carr, excellent, but none apparently of the three collections of his radio plays (some broadcast in LONDON during the war!)
    Parting admission: I once had two shelves of books, most paperbacks, tear out of the wall and fall on my brother’s bed while he was sleeping. Woke him up howling and the whole family as well, but none of my books were hurt; except for a couple with bent pages which I finally managed to get flatten out.
    Bon Sunday.

  18. John Griffin says:

    I have had several massive clearouts in the last decade, and still I have books everywhere. I get rid of specious books, books I couldn’t get past the first 20 pages (Jasper Fforde? I think holds the record at 5, and I’d bought 3 of them), whole series of the books where the writer gets too bloody clever (Reg Hill), too bloody depressive(John Harvey) or well off the boil. The only book I regret chucking was the analysis of Tolkien by two writers (Robert Eddings?). some of the books I can re-read are Michael Herr’s ‘Dispatches’ (now fallen apart), Peter Straub’s ‘Koko’ (although it has aged in style), Peter Robinson’s ‘Aftermath’ and to cheer myself out of whinging about adversity, Ed Spielman’s ‘The Mighty Atom: the life and times of Joseph L Greenstein’. It’s a book neurotic whingers should be forced to read at the point of a gun.

  19. snowy says:

    I hold Mr Newman in very high regard, for both his writing on film and his fiction. But his storage tips are a bit suspect.

    Double deep means that half the books are invisible, and you have to pull yards of books down to find the one you are looking for. This is a bit tedious, not to say haphazard. If the book doesn’t come to light in the first 5 minutes it is assumed lost and that leads to the buying of DUPLICATES.

    And then starts the vicious circle, more books, covering more books, more go ‘missing’, more to buy, more to shelve.

    If you are in the market for shonky storage tips, tall books go in the back row, short books in the front. Too many standard size paperbacks for that to work? Place a 2-3″ half depth riser at the back of the shelf, reload the shelf and now both sets of spines are visible.

    Burmese ingredients could be had, but you might have to gird your loins and risk a forray out to [shudder] Zone 3. Though they did deliver if you asked, for a fee.

  20. snowy says:

    Hello Jo, sadly despite being amply provided with such shops locally the range is rather limited.

    If I had a sudden need for 17 copies of either Bondage porn or Teenage angst in Gothic drag, I would be well catered for. The very best I can hope for is to find a long out of print gem.

  21. Helen Martin says:

    When we moved to the Coast from Ashcroft (consult Google) we packed up everything into a truck – everything except the books, which we took to the railway station to arrange for shipping. Rail freight is by weight so the boxes were piled on the freight scale where they came to a long ton, 2100lb I believe. That was in about 1969. I suspect we have doubled it since. I am giving away everything I will not want to bother reading again. As well as Admin’s upcoming there are two of King’s Holmes & Russell books to get.

  22. Helen Martin says:

    Not meaning I won’t read them again, quite the opposite, but other things will have to go. Sheesh, what is happening to my English.

  23. Jo W says:

    Hey Snowy! Those bondage and teenage books didn’t come from me!

  24. Dan Terrell says:

    Note today the total number of total shelves given includes some of those specified, and some are short shelves. I’m bad, but not so bad. I hope.

  25. Helen Martin says:

    I have a feeling that I might lose some of my book guilt if I could see some of these massive collections.

  26. m says:

    lovely shelves. I don’t think I’ll be any help as my first thought was that if they were in a single layer without books laid horizontally across then you are doing well. I have to do a purge as all the shelves in my place are full. I’ll be taking the books to the donation center for our local public library and trying very hard not to come out with more.

  27. Mim says:

    Admin, Burmese cooking isn’t that complex – I’m out in the provinces and manage it. As you’re in London, you should be able to get most things from Mum’s House (

    I like Burmese food, apart from baluchaung. It tastes like catbreath with added chillies. I think you have to be properly Bama to like that one…

Comments are closed.