Print Books, the Double-Edged Sword
Below Image: a comic I created based on the feelings described in this essay. I know my penmanship isn’t great, but I wanted to comedically pursue this idea in comics.
We accumulate more and more things the older we get like snowballs expanding outward, comets becoming moons becoming planets (if I can mix metaphors). This, by itself, isn’t that unusual, but I’ve found that the objects that stick to me aren’t the objects most people surround themselves with. Others compile new phones, new TVs, new computers, new furniture, new and fancy cookware like food processors, and…well, you get the picture. But me, my house becomes more and more littered with books, comics, and graphic novels: my drug of choice. I suppose I’ve always known this, but recently I’ve had this habit thrust in my face.
This past summer I moved in with my girlfriend — rather, we moved in together to a place new to the both of us. Her lease ended sooner, so she moved in earlier, leaving me plenty of time to pack, and more importantly, decide what I needed and what I could (or should) shed, like a snake crawling out of its old skin.
The first round of purging was easy: I tossed old Halloween costumes into bags for Goodwill, letting memories of group costumes, college partying, and facepaint well up inside me until I squeezed them out. Next, on a similar track, I donated clothes that were too old, too big (ah, who am I kidding? Too small) and hardly worn. I took some more similar steps (getting rid of old DVDs, kitchen items I didn’t use, and so on) but finally I hit the first road block on my packing spree: the boxes, bookshelves, and floors full of comics, books and graphic novels.
I didn’t think I could part with any of them, but I also knew that I couldn’t fit them into our new place, no matter how complex of Tetris-style moves I’d make. I started by going to Half Priced Books and selling individual issues and gifted books that had yet to be opened, convinced I could keep all my graphic novels and any book I’d read or wanted to read. But that only dropped a couple ounces and I was looking to shed pounds; I needed to get more serious.
It didn’t help that I’d drop off a box worth of issues and books and pick up a new graphic novel (on clearance!), because it was almost as if it was free and still saving space: I always spent less than I earned through my sales and only carried out a book or two I could lightly hold in one hand, as opposed to the boxes I lugged around, possibly wrenching my back in the process.
After getting rid of the obvious deadweight, I knew I needed to bail out more books and graphic novels if I was going to keep the new place afloat. This was much harder — it took me nearly two months to get rid of some books and reorganize my bookshelves only to realize I could dump a few more and have to re-reorganize my bookshelves. I could keep belaboring the point, but I’ll save you my mental and emotional anguish (or maybe I’m saving myself the trouble of going over this again). I’m reminded of the advice given to new writers to murder their darlings. That’s what it felt like and I have no desire to relive that trauma.
Ultimately, I was able to winnow my texts into a few bookcases worth, eyeing up the texts that truly meant something to me and said even more about me. One of my first exposures to comics, in the form of The Complete Calvin and Hobbes, perches at the top of a bookshelf, waiting to pounce on anyone who needs to feel like a kid again. And speaking of kids, beneath it lurks Little Lulu, a relatively new-to-me children’s classic that reminds us all how to make trouble when the rules and people around us are unfair. These comics mix with titles of heavier fare — the gorgeously illustrated Western vistas of Moebius’s Blueberry; the return to childhood fairy tales from a mature and maternal point-of-view as seen in Castle Waiting; the grittier than any James Bond movie, even the Daniel Craig ones, Queen and Country; the neo-noir that set me on my path to writing Rebirth of the Gangster, Azzarello and Risso’s modern masterpiece 100 Bullets; and many more.
I could continue listing titles (I haven’t even touched on any of my favorite books like East of Eden, The House of the Spirits, and Invisible Man) but eventually we’d all crumble under their weight, much like my apartment used to sag from the sheer volume of paper and ink. Instead I’ll leave with this parting thought: although I at first raged against trimming my book hoarding tendencies, I began to embrace it, feeling a new lease on life in the same way a dieter feels transformed after months of hard work.
But — like that dieter — I find myself going back to old habits, adding a few ounces here and there, a new book shoved into a newly thinned bookshelf. I’m not back to the literary weight I used to be, but if I’m not careful, I’m going to need to go on a diet again, purging those pages I’ve consumed without thinking.