Our Reading Lives

Confessions of a Book Adopter

Matt Grant

Staff Writer

Matt Grant is a Brooklyn-based writer, reader, and pop culture enthusiast. In addition to BookRiot, he is a staff writer at LitHub, where he writes about book news. Matt's work has appeared in Longreads, The Brooklyn Rail, Tor.com, Huffpost, and more. You can follow him online at www.mattgrantwriter.com or on Twitter: @mattgrantwriter

This is a guest post from Matt Grant. Matt is a reader based in Brooklyn. He also writes occasionally, because it’s a borough-wide requirement. In addition to books, he loves to talk about movies, television and video games. You can follow him on his website, www.mattgrantwriter.com or on Twitter, @mattgrantwriter.

I need to make a confession.

I have an acute addiction, and it’s one that I’m sure afflicts many of you as well. I’m reaching out for help because I need to know I’m not alone in this.

Okay, here it is: I can’t stop adopting books. Dog-eared, mint condition, sample publications or Advance Reading Copies, it doesn’t matter. I bring them all home, often with a guilty look on my face as my wife asks what I’m hiding behind my back.

All people with addictions have triggers, and mine is my Brooklyn neighborhood. Brooklyn is full of similar literary types who would rather give up their rent-controlled apartments than throw a good book in the trash. Stoops and steps are often filled with gently used copies of books that I never knew existed but now desperately need to read.

Often, on the way home from doing the laundry or visiting friends, I’ll intentionally make detours down side streets, especially if I know I’ve scored there before. It may add an extra few minutes to my commute, but I know it will be worth it if I hit the jackpot. The excitement I get when I see a brown paper Trader Joe’s bag, and the disappointment I feel if it’s empty or filled with dishes, makes the hunt that much more intoxicating.

Sometimes the books sit there all by their lonesome, out in the cold. Their dust jackets look up at me as if to say, “Please take us home and read us!” I can’t bear it; if I don’t take them home, who will? Sometimes they are careworn, but once in a while I get lucky and find one in pristine condition. In the end, though, it doesn’t matter how they look; it’s what’s inside that matters to me.

Now, I know that by now many of you are reading this and thinking, “Okay, so what’s the problem exactly?” Well, the problem is I don’t have the capacity to pay adequate attention to every book that I adopt. My tiny Brooklyn apartment is already full of books that I brought home on a whim, most several years old, all still begging to be read. Perhaps it wouldn’t be an issue if my plan to buy an e-reader to cut down on adopting physical books had actually worked. Or if I stopped going to the library. But let’s be honest: it’s nice sometimes to bring a book home that you know you don’t have to commit to forever. It’s like playing with an animal you know you’re not ultimately responsible for.

The biggest issue, though, is how this addiction affects my wife. She is a voracious reader also, even more than me, but she is better about actually reading the books that she owns. She detests clutter above all else. It makes her crazy every time I try to shove a new book on the top of a neatly lined row of other books, or cram one onto my bedside table. This, to her, is cheating: “Only books that fit on our bookshelf!” she pleads. “The windowsill is a bookshelf!” I reply.

But of course she is right. This year, I know that I must re-release some of my books back into the wild. When I do, I will of course leave them on my stoop, thereby completing a cycle. There they will sit, waiting for someone else to come along and adopt them into a good home. I have done this in the past, and while it feels good to let go, I know that I am only making room for the next needy book that comes across my path.

Sometimes, as try to leave a book outside, I convince myself that this will be the year I finally read it. This will be the year I no longer let it go starved for attention. I’ll devote my full attention and energy to it, until such a time that a newer book comes across my path. Of course, there is also the possibility that leaving it out will only fuel someone else’s book adoption addiction. And nobody wants that.

It feels good to finally get this off my chest. If you suffer from a similar affliction, please leave a comment so I know I’m not alone. We are here for one another. I promise that I will read them just as soon as I get back from a long walk around the neighborhood.