I’m not a bibliophile of the first order by any means. I may be perpetually running out of shelf space, but having seen houses where the stacks of books dictated where you could walk, sit, or sleep, I know I’m not even close to that level of book hoarding. My library’s a mess, organized by what will fit where rather than any real system. (I visited a friend’s house recently and had an attack of book envy when I learned that not only did they have separate rooms for fiction and nonfiction, but that the nonfiction was arranged by Library of Congress rules.) And with some exceptions, I don’t treat my books well. Paperbacks get bent, creased, rained on, used to hold recipes in place, bled on, and used to prop up furniture, though hardcovers work better for that purpose.
But I still assign a certain power to books, and a certain quality that’s entirely independent from their contents. I have real trouble throwing away or recycling a book, no matter how bad it is or how unlikely I am to ever read it again. I feel better carrying a book around with me, just for the knowledge that if I’m stuck somewhere, I’ll have reading material. There’s almost a talismanic quality to them.
Which is what makes it so weird to open a book and realize that the words in it were words I strung together. It’s as if there’s a block between the first perception of the book and the story that I wrote. I can’t quite match one to the other, and whenever I read something of mine in print, there’s always this strange disconnect, as if I’m reading through a mask or as if someone else is reading the words in my ear. It’s like one last separation between me and the text.
I recently received my ARCs for Wild Hunt and my contributor’s copies of Best Horror of the Year 1, and that’s what’s driving this particular line of thought. (That, and having handed over my draft of the third novel to BRAWL, I’m in that scattered, vacant state of thought perhaps best expressed in Edward Gorey’s The Unstrung Harp. Concentrating on anything more than a short story is a little difficult at the moment.) It’s very strange to have worked on something for so long to bring it to this point and then be unable to recognize it.
I don’t know if this is just one of those weird author neuroses. (Lord knows I’ve got my own complement of those.) And of course, this is all changing now with the advent of the Kindle and other e-book readers. I haven’t yet used one of these, so I have no idea how I’ll react to text in this new format. (I don’t have quite the same reaction reading work online; maybe it’s just that I’m used to reading my work off a screen.)
Does anyone else have this weird talismanic relationship to books, or the same reaction to seeing their work in print? Or can I just add this to the list of strange reactions to writing?