I love books. I love the feel of a book in my hands, the smell of old paper, the weight, the texture (hell, I even love bloody paper cuts). I love owning books, amassing a collection that shows who I am as a person. Having books by Phillip K. Dick, Margaret Atwood, J.D. Salinger, Bret Easton Ellis, Sylvia Plath, and Dr. Suess in my collection tells people something about my personality. My collection says, “Hi, I’m Ervin. These are my books. Owning them makes me awesome. So there.” If I owned books by Danielle Steel, Dan Brown, Tom Clancy, and Mitch Albom, my collection might say, “Hi, I’m Ervin. I have books.” I love everything about books. They transport me, teach me, make me happy, sad, angry, euphoric, jealous, joyous, spent, relaxed, and alive. I wonder, though, Where did this love come from?
I didn’t find my love of books until my early twenties. All through high school, I found reading to be mostly a chore. Sure, an occasional book assigned by a teacher would speak to me, like The Catcher in the Rye or Animal Farm, but those were rare occasions. I remember being handed a copy of The Canterbury Tales and thinking, “How many people did I kill and eat in a previous life to cause such torture to come my way?” In school, books were work. Outside of class, I went through my obligatory Stephen King phase, feverishly burning through his entertaining novels, but it wasn’t for the love of books. I just liked being scare shitless. King fostered in me a great love of horror, but not of books. It wasn’t until later, when I read King’s On Writing, that I truly came to admire the man as a writer. I also read Less Than Zero about fifty times as a teenager, mainly because I thought if people saw me carrying that book around, they’d mistakenly think I was cool.
College is mostly a blur, and I can’t quite remember what I read during those years, because my main interests were getting high and finding women foolish enough to want to get naked with me. I read, sure, but with a certain disinterest. I didn’t know what I wanted out of life, and I certainly didn’t think my future involved writing.
It was only after I’d finished school, while stocking shelves at a liquor store in New Jersey, when ideas began to form in my brain. I’d be loading the refrigerator with cold bottles of Boone’s Farm (the go-to cheap wine for those wanting to get drunk quickly and cheaply), and my thoughts would drift to other places, to characters of my own creation. Soon enough, I was spending my free hours typing on a gigantic word processor, making up stories…writing. And I loved it. Writing brought a sense of purpose that I had never previously known. Within a short period of time, I couldn’t go a day without writing something, a page, ten pages, a few sentences, whatever my mind offered that day. One day I was an unhappy liquor store clerk, and the next I was a writer. Well, that’s not completely accurate. I was still a liquor store clerk, and my writing was beyond awful, but I had found something that clicked.
Words began to serenade me. I went back and re-read much of what I’d already read in high school, and appreciated those great literary works for the first time. I read voraciously. I figured, If I’m going to be a writer, I need to read everything. In the beginning, because I didn’t know what the hell I was doing, I copied the style of others to tell my tales. Then, slowly, I found my own style. By my thirtieth birthday, I was a full-blown word junkie. If I didn’t get my fix, I’d be miserable. A day without reading or writing was a wasted day.
I am a person who cherishes the written word, but where did this trait come from? I grew up in a (wonderful) white trash family, and no one read more than a newspaper, usually just to check the Police Roundup to see if anyone in our family had been arrested the previous day. There aren’t any writers in my family tree, and hardly any readers. So why me? Why do I have the love of books? Who the hell knows? It must have come from somewhere. Ruling out heredity, that leaves God, aliens, Demonic Possession, or Oprah; nope, none of those. Whatever the reason, I’m just glad that a love of books found its way into my soul. Better that than a love of transsexual prostitutes, crack or clowns. Does it really matter where my love stems from?
No, probably not. I’m just glad it’s there.