October 21, 2013

The Inability to Stop Buying Books

Note from Jessica: Although Katie from cakes, tea and dreams and I have never met in real life - we had very similar upbringings (even down to playing flute in a Texas marching band!); so it feels like we have. I love her post about her compulsion to keep buying books - I'm sure lots of us can relate. Be sure to check out Katie's blog, and the rest of the maternity guest post series here.

I have a book-buying problem.

The Inability to Stop Buying BooksThere are many reasons for this, chief among them my deep love for the written word and the preponderance of great bookstores in Boston (where I live) and specifically in Harvard Square (where I work). Within half a mile of my office are at least five bookstores, including Harvard's mammoth campus bookstore; a basement used bookshop full of scholarly titles; a foreign-language bookshop; a tiny bookshop devoted exclusively to poetry; and a big, eclectic independent bookstore with titles on hundreds of subjects and a basement bursting with used books. After living most of my life in bookshop- poor West Texas, I can hardly believe all these literary riches are at my fingertips.

I am a fast and voracious reader, but unfortunately, I'm not independently wealthy; I cannot afford to buy all the books I read. I also know, on an intellectual level, that reading (and even loving) a book doesn't mean I have to own a copy. So I am an avid user of my local library, and I borrow books from friends regularly.

But if I truly love a book, or I read it as a child and loved it, or I'm collecting a series and happen upon an installment I don't yet own, or I spot a title I haven't read by an author I love, I often have a hard time not buying it.

Behind the simple joy of possession, and the aesthetic pleasure of seeing a matching series lined up on my shelves, lurks a more insidious reason: a lingering fear that one of these days, I will run out of good books to read. This fear, like most fears, is irrational - but it nevertheless motivates me to rush out and buy a new book or two any time the to-be-read stacks get a little low.

This theory operates on the assumption that there are a limited number of good books in the world, and that eventually I will reach the end of them and run out of decent reading material. I spend a lot of time reading, and I occasionally wonder if, some day, I will have exhausted the pool of books I will love. When that day comes (the theory goes), I had better have as many good books as possible at my disposal, so I can read them again and again.

My experience, of course, disproves this theory over and over. There are thousands of wonderful books in the world: stories to dive into and poetry to savor, memoirs and biographies and nonfiction to enlighten and educate. My tastes broaden and evolve as I grow older, and I come across new books these days in all sorts of ways: word of mouth via blogs and tweets and real-life friends, featured displays and author events at my favorite bookstores, review copies that come across my desk for potential inclusion in Shelf Awareness. Instead of a scarcity of good books, I often find myself dealing with an abundance of them.

I have only to glance at my bursting shelves and my teetering to-be-read piles to remind myself: there are abundant good books in the world, both those I know and love and those I have yet to discover.

And if I should ever run out (temporarily), I have only to step into a bookstore (or a library) and remind myself: there is abundance here. I will never run out of wonderful things to read.

Do you have a book-buying problem? Do you ever grow afraid of running out of good books?
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