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(Not) Buying Books

28 May 2010

I spent over an hour in a bookstore today but I didn’t buy any books. And it was a warehouse bookstore, so they were all 10% off! Am I crazy? Yes. I also have a thing about loving my books. If I buy a book and don’t love it, I feel let down. So I prefer to save my purchases for books that I know, somehow, that I will love. The library is for trying out everything else. (And so are used bookshops, where the books are less than $10 each so I feel less guilty about spending money on books I might not love.)

This is a habit I’d like to stop. What is it about not liking a book I’ve bought that is so terrible? A friend of mine was over for lunch the other day, and we started talking about books we had read recently. We ended up writing down a list of about five books each that the other recommended for us, and then the conversation moved to our bookshelves. I went to pull out one of the books I recommended to her and realized I had already donated it to charity. She was surprised, and said that she keeps all of her books. I explained that I only keep my favourite books, and give the rest away either to charity or to a used bookshop in exchange for book credits. While she likes the volume of books on her shelves, I’m more concerned with the quality of my books. Which is why I’m hesitant to buy new ones.

Kirsty Logan writes about a similar situation in her article about not reading books that she buys. Kirsty often buys books and then worries that they might not live up to her expectations of them, so she doesn’t read them. We all probably have the odd book or two that we bought and never got around to reading, for various reasons, myself included. I don’t mind having a few unread books on my shelves; it gives me more choice when I’m ready to start a new book. I don’t want to become Kirsty Logan (she has over 800 unread books on her shelves!) but I do want to buy more books to fill my own shelves. it’s not normal for a writer and avid reader to own less than 60 books, but I do (there are 58 on my bookshelf as I type this). While I’m proud of my library patronage, books are not something to be frugal with, especially if I want to do my part to keep books alive in the technological era.

I’d like to make a promise to myself: I will treat myself to eight new books a year. This sounds like a small amount, but remember, I do visit the library often. And remember, Mallery, it’s okay to not like a book that you buy. If you’re feeling generous, you can give it to charity. And if you’re feeling gypped out of a good book, take it to the used bookshop and get another book!

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Melissa permalink
    4 June 2010 09:54

    I used to want a whole library of my own, but as I’ve gotten older, I’ve re-read fewer and fewer books. Even if a bo0k is really, really good, I rarely re-read it. There are exceptions, but the percentage is not high. So I’ve gotten rid of a lot of my books. Although I mostly read fiction novels, my shelves are containing more and more books I use for reference, and poetry volumes. (I borrow the novels.) For my birthday, my mother sent me three books – one is a narrative non fiction, one a volume of poetry by Rumi, and the other the Tao Te Ching. I already plan on getting rid of the narrative non fiction!

    The idea of buying eight new books a year seems to me so sensible on paper– and yet in my real life, I act like it is extravagant! Only when I went to Europe and couldn’t use a library did I actually buy that amount of books. Your post made me look at my habits twice.

    But as for getting rid of books… it is still something I will do. 200 books you love will not weigh you down, but 50 books you don’t will, because they become merely STUFF, and not things that speak to your soul.

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