He had wandered into the Saville Book shop for months on end, several times a week, pulling books off shelves, analysing their contents, making notes on a small pad of paper kept in the breast pocket of a rumpled sport coat. He never spoke with any clerk, never asked a question, never purchased a book.
Until that memorable fall night, several years ago, when the man returned.
"Boxes," he told the clerk, "I need boxes."
He walked slowly through the store, never referring to his notes, pulling books from the shelves and placing them in the boxes.
Two and one-half hours later he had filled cartons and cartons. The clerk rang up a $1,300-sale, and leaned over to the man.
"This is none of my business, sir," he asked, "but could you explain this to me?"
"I sold short and it worked out," the bookaholic said. He backed a station wagon up to the building, and made off with his treasures.
Of course, this is nothing compared with the sensational accumulation of Rep. Charles J. Carney (D-Ohio). Library of Congress records show that Carney has collected about 62,000 books in the last 2 1/2 years from the institution's annual load of 2 million duplicate volumes!
The books are available to congressmen for distribution to schools and librarise - ostensibly the reason Carney took them.
But many of them, according to a Cleveland Plain Dealer story, are ensconced in several rooms here and in Ohio that Carney refers to as "my library."
He describes himself as "a book fiend."
Which is just another way of saying bookaholic.
Bookaholism. It's a disease that affects an untold number of Americans: that uplifting feeling that somewhere around the corner are at least three or four volumes that just have to be had . . . today! Life without plenty of books lying around the house is like a day without orange juice for a bookaholic. Go a week without an azquisition and the hands start to shake.
We're not talking of old books here. one of that snobby first-edition, out-of-print stuff. Just your basic on-the-shelf material that's waiting to be taken home. Bookaholism knows no bounds and blurs all borders. Even paperbacks are fine.
"There's no book that somebody doesn't want," says John Tucker for years the man with the proper New England accent and button-down oxford behind the Saville cash register. Now he's a clerk at The Book Annex on Wisconsin Avenue.
"I can't remember the exact title," he says, "but once I bet a girl working at Saville that I could sell a book on cannonball-collecting within a week. It was gone in two days.We had a customer who liked buying books in associative groups, and I convinced her that this cannonball book fit in with whatever she was buying that day."
"Bookstores are another world - and escape world," says Jane Friedman, promotion director for the Alfred A. Knopf publishing company. "A book lasts a lot longer than the 2 1/2 hous of a movie on a screen. My husband could have any book he wants free because of my job, but he goes in bookstores at least three times a week. He loves the way they smell, the way the books look on the shelves. It's a nice sense to be surrounded by literature."
About 20,000 Washingtonians walk into bookshops each week. It's unknown how many of them are bookaholics. One person with the affliction says it's "a feeling you get when you go into a bookstore and you just know you can't resist buying a handful. They look so cute and wanting. They need a home. And you know your home is the place."
In contrast to most stories, this particular bookaholic tells of an incident in a used book shop. A film critic for a small intellectual monthly, he walked into a used book shop and went ga-ga when he found a red-leather-bound, specially published edition of "The Postman Always Rings Twice" inscribed to Lana Turner from James M. Cain on the day the movie version premiered.
The price was $225, but the caritic walked off with it for $150 because, as Booked Up owner Lary McMurty puts it, "You had to give the guy a $75 enthusiasm discount."
Enthusiasm and persistence: "You'll be trying to rearrange some stock at 3 a.m. and they're rapping on the window and trying to have you let them in," says Tucker. "I suppose bookaholism is developed habit, reinforced by the simple pleasure you get out of reading a good book."
It comes in all forms. Jim Tenney of the BOok Annex says he remembers "10 years ago when, out of the blue, Alice Longworth called up and asked me to send over a good science dictiontary with a decent definition of quarks. You never knew what she was going to be interested in. She'd frequently stay up until 4 a.m. reading."
Kevin Lewis, manager of the Discount Book Shop on Connecticut Avenue, says that he can expect, "two or three nights a week, always at night, from 7 until we close, a 6 feet 6 blond-haired man who never asks a question and never leaves the store without an armful of books."
Tucker recalls a father bringing in "a 9-year-old youngster who looked like Little Lord Fauntroy. He had stolen several leather-bound copies of Shakespeare. His father wanted him to apologize in person, and the youngster made it apparent that it was very hard for him to live without these books."
"I can't throw a book away, no matter how bad it is," says WMAL sportscaster Jack Mann, who owns several thousand books. "Maybe it's because I've written one. A book is better than no book, even if it's bad. You have a certain respect for anyone who's written a book. It's a comfortable feeling just to know a book is there."
Mann moved to McLean six years ago, and an entire room of his house is still submerged under 18 inches of books.
"The disease takes on new forms every year," says a young executive. "I went through a particular period of stress once, and I developed a craving for big art books: 'The Arts of China,' 'The Horizon History of the British Empire,' 'The Holy Land.' A college girl friend once accused me of taking more interest in my books than her, which was right, and it planted a seed of doubt in my mind. I did not wed her."
"Books are your friends," says the film critic. "You want to have them. They make you feel good. I never lend them out. People bend the pages. They crack the bindings."
"I think it's an escape," says Jean Waterhouse, co-managet of the Francis Scott Key shop at 28th and O Streets. "And people like this always seem to feel that they'll eventually have to go back to the book, so they want to keep everything."
But have pity on this poor lot of souls.
"Let me tell you about the Penquin man," says Lewis. "We used to have our Penquin books in numerical order. This man - small, quiet, carried a briefcase, kind of ragged looking, like a battered, improvished scholar - had a Penquin catalog and he would go through the stacks and buy a few months his catalog would start looking very battered, and he'd ask for a new one.
"Finally it became impractical to keep the books in numerical order. So we rearranged them. He came in one night and went beserk. But he got used to it and kept coming. Finally, about six months ago, Penquin merged with Viking. He came in one night, and started poking through the Penquins, and found old Viking titles in Penquin jackets. He stormed out and never came back.
"I heard not too longago that he had a nervous breakdown."