Jane R. in our fellowship never willingly admitted to buying books at all. As far as her husband and children ever knew, books just sort of appeared on her shelves at home--possibly in circulation from her shelves at the office, since she was always trucking books back and forth, usually, though she didn't make a lot of noise about this, in the home-to-office direction, in order to make room at home for the new books she'd just bought. Her desks, tables, and floors were piled so high with books that didn't fit on her shelves that the excuse of needing to make room for more books would have been a lame one anyway, so she didn't make it; she just claimed to "need" certain books in certain places at different times, often whole boxfuls at once. And so in the shuffle it was fairly easy to disguise the appearance of newly purchased books; a new book, price tag off and her name on, was hers, not something she'd just bought.

Whenever possible, she would buy books and take them straight to the office, leave the bag in the trash for the janitor to cart off, file the receipt away in her filing cabinet. Bringing new books straight home from the store was a slightly more involved operation, since she was never consciously devious enough to actively hide the evidence of book-buying from her family. She just "happened" to take most of her new books to the office, period; nothing special about that, nothing underhanded, no plot to conceal her addiction from her husband. To stop at a dumpster on the way home from the bookstore, for example, and dispose of the plastic bag the books came in, would have been extreme; it would have been dishonest; more to the point, its extremity would have forced her to recognize her dishonesty.

And so, when she knew her husband was home, she would simply "forget" to bring the books in from the car--then, later, go out and get them, and casually drop the bag off in the wastebasket (deep down in the wastebasket, which was kind of hard to do casually, but she was good) on her way in through the kitchen. Or she would take one or two books out of the bag, stick them in her briefcase, and "accidentally" leave the rest in the car. If she thought about it in the bookstore, and if she had room (which was almost never), she would simply shove the books in her briefcase and wave off the offer of a bag to carry them in; but since her briefcase was full of other books, and papers that she had been meaning to get around to sorting out for weeks, and her collapsible umbrella, and three or four Ultra-SlimFast bars for that quick low-cal snack, she usually had to walk out of the bookstore with her purchases in a bag.

Which she did proudly, by the way, never skulking out with furtive glances to the right and left, worrying about who was spotting her. "I'm an adult, dammit," she'd tell herself, "and what does it matter how many books I buy? Besides, I'm an academic; I need these for my work."

Still, she worried (in a low-key sort of way, no overt anxiety here) about the telltale signs of her shopping sprees, especially the bags, and the few times her husband spotted one of them and asked her what she'd bought she did lie, usually, about how many, and how much. "I picked up a couple of paperbacks, Gloria Steinem's and Susan Faludi's books are out in paperback now, finally I can afford to have them on my own shelf!"

Which was not an out-and-out lie, when you came right down to it, because she had bought those two books, and they were tingling in her hand, waiting to be read (although, alas, they never would be, apart from the first few pages of each, too many other exciting books were in line ahead of them), and, well, if she didn't mention the five other books she also bought, and the $90-plus check she'd written (thank god she balanced her own checkbook!), she didn't exactly lie about them, either.

And if her total book receipts come tax time totalled somewhere in the vicinity of a full month's salary, well, her family should be grateful that she had generated such a large deduction for them, and she was certainly grateful that she always insisted on doing her own taxes!

But one year she was involved in an accident, early April--she slipped in a spot of grease on the kitchen floor, fell and hit her head on the stove, suffered a concussion, broke her arm and collarbone trying to break her fall--and was in the hospital at tax time. And yes, her husband did her taxes that year, and discovered her receipts for $4132 worth of books.

Now, he is an easy-going sort, not one to fly off the handle at a thing like that; besides, of course, it was her money, in a manner of speaking; although they didn't really operate on a principle of his money and her money, it was all their money; but still, she brought in her share, certainly she was entitled to spend her share; and it was books, after all, professional expenditures, not booze, or drugs, or a million pairs of shoes.

Still, he had to wonder a little why she kept her book-buying such a big secret. What was there to hide? Was she afraid of his anger? Was that it? And so he pondered it in silence for a day or two, kept his face pleasant and noncommittal when he visited her in the hospital, though she knew he must have found out, indeed she'd told him where to find her receipts in her office, and every day dreaded his visit, dreaded it for hours in advance, dreaded it every minute he was there, just waiting for the other shoe to drop.

It didn't drop until she was home, ensconced comfortably on the sofa, a drink in her unharnessed hand:

"Now about those books," he started, and to her utter surprise and horror, Jane burst into tears! Floods of tears, uncontrollable weeping that went on for what seemed like an hour. Every time she seemed about to calm down she would look inward, shrivel, moan, and fall to sobbing again. Her husband, Mike's his name, just sat there, feeding her Kleenexes and stroking her shoulder, until finally she was ready to talk.

Only there was nothing to say.

"I--I don't know," was all she could manage.

Mike nodded absently, patted her shoulder again, then looked pensive.

"Who was that colleague of yours, Ben somebody, who had that terrible reading addiction, and got into Academics Anonymous? Remember?"

She nodded, pronounced the colleague's name, and sat back with a sad little sigh.

"I guess that's the only thing, isn't it?" she said finally. "I guess that's where I'll have to go, to get better. I know I can't lick this thing on my own."

"It's probably best," Mike said. "Just take it one day at a time."

And the rest is history. Jane attends regularly, and has been an inspiration to newcomers. She hasn't bought a book in over a year now.

Back to Am I An Addict?

Copyright Doug Robinson and Bill Kaul