August 27, 2011 by heartonsleevereview
Due to editorial error, Ryan’s submission got lost in the interwebs for a few days, hence the super special awesome fantastice Saturday Edition of Testosterone Tuesday…ladies and gentlemen: Mr. Ryan W. Bradley!
The Chicken or the Egg Disorder
The compulsions came before the writing. In my relationship with books, however, it’s a chicken and egg situation. The compulsions, the rituals, have been there as long as I remember. I take off dust jackets, can’t read a book if it has the dust jacket on. But to keep it pristine I place the dust jacket it on top of the shelf. Put it back on the book when I’m finished. I always have a bookmark or makeshift bookmark handy. I don’t ever, ever, fold a page. Ever. And, perhaps most paramount, I don’t write in books. I don’t highlight. I don’t take notes. But if I need to I had better hope I have paper and a pen.
Of all the compulsions I hold, many of which relate in no way at all to books or writing, it is these regarding books and how they are treated that are the most painful. Sure, I’ll check that a door is locked or an alarm clock is set more times than is necessary, but those are almost absent-minded at this point. When, however, I even see someone write in a book it makes me physically ill. Same goes for folding a page. Seeing even the evidence of these occurrences makes me uneasy. Makes me feel like my skin is crawling.
People often think I haven’t read the books I own, because of the shape they are in. I don’t crack the spines when I read. I don’t fold paperback covers too far back. Needless to say, I don’t often buy used books.
And I don’t like libraries.
Don’t get me wrong, they are wonderful institutions. But for me it’s like a form of slow torture. Every book is well-worn, written in, bent and torn. Every book has been held and cracked and read by masses of loving and unloving readers. It makes me downright uncomfortable.
I guess it would be obvious at this point that I don’t loan books to other people very often. And those who have borrowed books from me often opt not to borrow books from me a second time. After dealing with my concern about their potential treatment of the book and my attempts to casually inspect the books upon their return, I imagine I don’t feel too hospitable. Even my wife hesitates to borrow books from me. It has taken a lot of breathing exercises to allow her to take my books into the bath with her. I try to conquer this compulsion because there are so many things I read and want to share with her. And she’s certainly not going to stand for me reading aloud to her all the time like she’s our three year old.
There’s no way I’m the only one. Certainly the very standard for book design came from the mind of a compulsive. Barcodes and prices printed right on the book? It eliminates the need for stickers. The fact that some stores still put stickers on books will forever drive me mad. I can’t not peel the sticker off, but more often than not I’m going to be left with sticker residue, which will taunt me long after the sticker’s been crumpled and thrown in the trash.
I have been a reader my whole life. I started early in toddler-hood, quickly moved through children’s books, and by the time I was eight or nine was raiding my parents’ shelves for reading material. I was lucky to have a mother and a step-father who were avid readers and encouraged me at every turn of the page. But the compulsions have always been a beast of their own making as far as I can tell. I’m not the only one in my family who exhibits compulsive behavior, by any means, but when it comes to books I certainly take it to a different level.
I can keep it in check… to a degree, for instance the ability to allow my wife to take books in the bath with her. Or that until just recently my books had been out of order (alphabetical by author’s last name). I did, however, retain a shelf solely for poetry during this time. Currently I have multiple sections: non-fiction, fiction, poetry, literary journals, graphic novels and art books, and a special shelf for chapbooks in my office.
I believe it’s these compulsions that keep me a reader. It would be easy to stop reading. There’s plenty of entertainment in the world. But I can’t stop. I see books and I want, need, to read them. Much in the way that I have come to need the act of writing, or doing design work. The way I used to need to write and record songs, endlessly tinkering in Pro Tools. My compulsions tend toward a collector mentality. If I love a writer I feel an overwhelming need to own all their books, even if there is one I don’t like.
My compulsions have become more prominent over the last decade, though the book compulsions haven’t changed much. Those were always the worst. But if anything they have actually improved while others have worsened. With these changes I have also become more conscious of my compulsive behavior.
I can already see my three year old exhibiting some similar personality traits. As he gets older I’m intrigued to see if he has similar issues when it comes to books. Children are like a science experiment. You mix your genetics with those of someone else and see what comes out. I already know he can’t be achromatopsic like I am, unable to see colors. In a way a few compulsions might be the most lasting impact I can have on him, at a genetic level.
Ryan W. Bradley, when not expressing neurotic tendencies towards books, has pumped gas, changed oil, painted houses, swept the floor of a mechanic’s shop, worked on a construction crew in the Arctic Circle, fronted a punk band, and managed an independent children’s bookstore. He received his MFA from Pacific University and his poetry and fiction has been published or is forthcoming in The Oregonian, Gargoyle, Word Riot, Oranges & Sardines, Pear Noir!, Potomac Review, and Pank. CODE FOR FAILURE, a novel based on his time as a gas station attendant will be published by Black Coffee Press in 2012. He is also the editor of Artistically Declined Press and lives in Oregon with his wife and two sons.