The Help Desk: I'll bet his place smells like tannis root

Every Friday, Cienna Madrid offers solutions to life’s most vexing literary problems. Do you need a book recommendation to send your worst cousin on her birthday? Is it okay to read erotica on public transit? Cienna can help. Send your questions to

Dear Cienna,

I have a dumb problem. I can't seem to stop buying books. Shelves and shelves of once-hot titles and cool reissues and cult classics and sometimes just out-and-out garbage. I keep a running list on Amazon. I have a section of my bookshelf dedicated to stuff from library sales. (Fifty cents a book! How am I supposed to resist that?) I recently took three giant boxes of musty 70s paperbacks off my mom's hands just because.

However, that's not really the problem. The problem is, I never seem to read any of them. I spend so much time on Twitter, on the internet, binge-watching TV on Netflix, that I never get around to just sitting down and reading. I have plenty of space for all these books, but one day I'm going to run out. I don't want to part with any of these books, either; that feels like giving up, and rendering it all pointless.

Cienna, should I just buckle down and accept that I'm not a reader anymore and get rid of all these books? Should I fling off these electronic distractions like some kind of ascetic monk and focus on print? Should I just go into therapy?

By the way, would you like a funny-smelling copy of "Rosemary's Baby"? I have three.

James, Delridge

Dear James,

You're not a reader. Your hobby is hoarding, not reading – and as far as hoarding goes, you're in good shape. Books are generally a compact and nonpsychotic option, unlike antique corpses dressed as little girls.

Fortunately, anyone can become a reader at any point. All you have to do is pick up a book, open it and read it. You don't have to read it very fast or very well, or limit yourself to one at a time. You don't have to finish a book that doesn't engage you. Books, much like antique corpses dressed as little girls, aren't very judgy.

I understand how distracting the internet can be. I just spent 90 minutes googling "antique corpses dressed as little girls." Like you, I've also spent years of my life collecting books more than reading them. But at a certain point, I made a choice to start living like the person I wanted to be, and that included moving into the Trump Tower of basements, launching my own business that combines pantomime and improve into a dynamic new public art form I call "pantoproving," and reading the piles of books that I've lovingly collected for years. Like anything worth doing in life, reading takes stamina and dedication, but the satisfaction and awe I experience when immersed in a world invented by another human being is unmeasurable. It's as if the art of lying finds its altruistic higher calling through novels.

Please send my smelly copy of Rosemary's Baby c/o Seattle Review of Books, 7 Mercer Street, Seattle WA, 98109. As a tribute to you, I will dedicate my next pantoprov session to its content. (If you see a woman silently birthing a demon in a Target bathroom on Saturday, don't be afraid to say "hello!")

Kisses, Cienna