My name is Marina, and I’m addicted to books.
They’re everywhere. I stack them anywhere there is an open space. My closet holds more books than clothes. Books serve as stands for mirrors, lamps, and jewelry stands. A bench I expected to refurbish years ago has become a makeshift bookcase, with books of all kinds stacked on and arranged underneath. I do have a bookshelf in my room, but it’s full. The top shelf has all of my signed books, which is nearing capacity. Everything is haphazardly organized; if I sent someone in for a specific book, they would be hard pressed to find it. I know where everything is, though. I could find it in seconds.
I don’t discriminate on what books I enter in my collection. Fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and every cross-genre in between can hold its own place. If the title or cover intrigues me, I take it. If I’ve heard good things about an author before, I take it. Anything that remotely touches the genre of true crime or mystery automatically winds up on my shelf. Whether I’m in Barnes and Noble, a used bookstore off the beaten path, or I come across a little free library, there is no such thing as self-control.
Which is why, inevitably, my parents have begun to discourage me from adopting these new stories, especially since I recently moved in with them. Money and space are tight. I’m currently one of the more fortunate people able to keep a job where I have some sort of income coming in, even if it is only $40 a week. My part-time nannying job is off the table, and it’s still to be determined if my summer job is going to work out. The global pandemic has weaved its way into every aspect of my life.
I have many symptoms that line up with COVID-19, minus one or two. I know there are thousands like me, who are sick but have no idea what could possibly be wrong with us. The symptoms aren’t severe enough to put me in the hospital (not yet, God willing), but not mundane enough so that urgent care would even consider letting me walk through the doors. In my state, like many, we are experiencing a severe test shortage, so the only way I’d know if I have COVID-19 is if I were to land in the hospital, on a ventilator, alone.
I am locked in my room indefinitely. It’s about 15×10 feet, and most of the day is spent in my bed, about five paces from my door. There are so many things I took for granted. Sitting on the couch with my mom watching our favorite shows. Sneaking into my Dad’s office and giving him a hug “good morning” while he’s on a conference call. Sitting at the foot of the bed at night, petting the dog and talking with my parents. I can’t even say that I am “living” in quarantine; if anything, I’m just surviving.
But I have my books.
Next to my bed, there is The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson, my favorite nonfiction author. The sleek, ominous black jacket with its stark, white font screams for attention. And, it’s signed. Cue the heavenly choir. I can feel my chest tighten with excitement just thinking about it. Sometimes I’ll just touch it, feel the texture of the book jacket like a kid would a present underneath the Christmas tree. I can’t wait to tear it open.
If I look just beyond it, I can see the vivid spines of celebrity memoirs in flashy colors, like neon lights. Amy Poehler’s Yes Please, Holly Madison’s Down the Rabbit Hole, and Leah Remini’s Troublemaker, each vying desperately for my attention. Underneath those three is another book, Actual Innocence, a true crime book by three different authors, enters the fray with its metallic sheen. Above them, the bright hues of From Where You Dream, The Real Lolita, The Secret Miracle, The Murrow Boys, and How Not to Write a Novel make this column of books the most pleasing to look at in my entire room.
Just through the crack in my closet doors, I can see my collection of Agatha Christie novels. Small paperbacks with prices of 98 cents that I picked up in used bookstores up and down the East Coast. There isn’t a single cover that looks the same. Evil Under the Sun returns my gaze, a weathered woman looking tired underneath driftwood branches. Another woman in blurry shades of purple runs in fear on the cover of The Mirror Crack’d. A gargantuan and horrifically detailed fly hovers in a dining room on The Secret Adversary. Five Little Pigs is covered in art deco gold font, with a small image of a candle sitting on a palette that is far to clean to belong to an actual artist. All these and more stacked neatly, ready to be investigated.
My current read, Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy, is kept under my pillow, never far out of my reach. Admittedly, it’s not my favorite, but every now and then, I’ll come across a description, like “cauterized waste” to describe the Southwestern desert, that’ll make me snap my fingers in the silence of my bedroom. Even though reading that book is like trudging through mud, it’s worth it to find one of those beautiful lines. It’s a treasure hunt without ever having to leave bed.
I’m surrounded by my loves, by the entire world kept in the pages of these books. When I’m craving a hug from my family, I lie on the floor, my shoulders and hips against the spines, trying to absorb their sensation through osmosis. Any reader knows that sensation I’m talking about, but it’s rarely described. It’s a calming excitement, a reassuring temptation that wraps you in the experiences of the universe.
It’s easy to feel like I’m drowning in the dread and uncertainty of my current situation. Even though the pandemic is infecting everything, when it touched my books, it did not cause them to wither. Rather, it amplified their presence, made them shine more, like pearls at the bottom of the ocean.