Bibliomania by Vincent McCaffrey
Consider the size: a mere seven inches tall (less if it was from Dell or Popular Library), four and a quarter inches wide, and half an inch thick. A hundred thousand choice words, more or less, in a soft covered package you could shove in the pocket of your jeans.
I was consuming two or three of these a week in 1963. It was an addiction. I was a poor student, but I could pass almost any test (except math and foreign languages) just on the residual knowledge I was picking up along the way.
And it was more than fiction that possessed me. I read the Bruce Catton historical works on the Civil War, Alan Moorhead’sWhite Nile and Heyerdahl’s Kon-Tiki, Kennedy’s Profiles in Courage, the poems of Robert Frost, Carl Sandburg and Walt Whitman, and biography by the basket-load.
I often killed a mystery in a single night, and willfully faced the perplexed expressions of my teacher’s the next day, sleepy-eyed and sans homework. Dumas was narcotic. The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo were cocaine. Herman Wouk’s Youngblood Hawke was savored (imagining myself a young word-happy Thomas Wolfe). The James Michener’s were thick enough to keep me up several nights in a row.
I paid special attention to ‘trashy’ novels. But I was an innocent at that. When I discovered Harold Robbins and Erskine Caldwell—I carefully reread the ‘good’ parts. And science fiction became a drug of choice for years. Robert Heinlein was better than food, and thus despite all this time spent reading, I was a skinny kid. Almost nothing I heard in the classroom came close to the thrill I felt amidst the pages of a book.
What could be done?
My parents had already restricted my TV time. A body search for smuggled reading material was beyond them. I retreated to my room.
I had the price of admission, after all. In the winter, shoveling the snow from a single walkway, less than half an hours work, was worth several paperback books at thirty-five to seventy-five cents each. In the summer, mowing a lawn could keep me in the latest paperback titles for a week.
I was profligate. Debauched. Dissolute.
Moreover, I was doing every odd job I could manage and still I was habitually broke.
Which is about the time I made the fateful discovery of the used-book market. I realized I could sell the ones I didn’t want to keep.
My first adventures alone into the great city were prompted by this revelation. I would save my lunch money and on a good day, buy a round trip ticket on the New Haven line in the morning along with all those gray flannel suits. At the time, there were used bookshops downtown on Second Avenue that bought back the paperbacks for a dime. I even started to sell some of the old volumes I had salvaged from Mrs. Faurot’s barn.
With my Boy Scout pack full of books, I must have appeared to be a student taking the train to school. I was never once bothered for my truancy. My bibliomania had found a natural and self-sustaining ecology.