Saturday, November 2, 2013

Why the shame?

Why do we book bloggers have a tendency to "confess" our book purchases rather than joyfully share them?  Why do we constantly evaluate the size of our to-read piles, and lament their growth?  Why do we hang our heads and apologize for coming home with new books?  Why the "oops" and the "confessions" and the "broken resolutions"?

Why do we make ourselves feel badly about indulging in our reading habits?  We read for pleasure, we read for intellectual stimulation, we read for our own character growth, we read for interest in other times and societies and situations, we read because we're tired or bored or sick or curious.  Buying books doesn't prevent us from using libraries; it supports book culture, and it gives us the opportunity not only to recommend a book to a friend, but press a copy into their hands and say, "here, try this - it's one of my favorites."

Yes, book-buying can make us short on space (but then, doesn't any other collecting habit?)  Yes, book-buying can add to the pile of books we've never read and are looking forward to trying out (but then, where's the harm in having exciting options on hand?)  Yes, book-buying can cost money (but then, isn't it worth saving on a few coffees and buying an experience that will last much longer?)

There are good reasons to be judicious in one's book purchases; there are good reasons to be thrifty; there are good reasons to be sensitive to one's spouse, partner, or roommate if he or she isn't also a book collector.  But if we've considered all of these things, and still selected a book to bring home with us, why not celebrate instead of presenting it to the blogging world with an apology?  Why be ashamed?  After all, we don't have to keep it once we've read it!

Evidently I'm in an introspective kind of mood today!  That's all from me today; now I'm back to Religion and the Decline of Magic (for schoolwork) and Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell (for fun).  Oh, and on the subject of not keeping books - I still intend to have a giveaway, once I've got the time to explain why Statues in a Garden (by Isabel Colegate, of The Shooting Party fame) wasn't quite my cup of tea.

9 comments:

  1. This is really interesting. From my point of view, because I read my TBR in (kind of) strict order of acquisition, I feel bad for new books when the TBR is too big, because they're going to languish unread on the shelf for aaaages - I prefer to get them nice and read and reviewed and happy and on the shelves as quickly as I can (or passed on to find new friends). But I've not articulated that on my blog, and I should do next time I "confess". Loving the blog and have added it to my RSS reader.

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    1. Aww, thanks! I'm loving yours too!

      I'm really intrigued that you read your TBR stack in order. Have you always done that? Does it ever feel constraining? Do you ever find yourself dying for a certain genre, but it's not anywhere near the top of the list? On the other hand, at least this way no book will get constantly overlooked for years and years!

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    2. I feel that I have always done that - ever since I've had a big TBR, anyway. I like it, because it throws up an interesting thing to read every time. I do tend to have a non-fiction hardback on the go at the dinner table / in bed and then some fiction in my handbag for any travelling I do, so I do still get a variety, and if I do happen to have bought lots of similar books at one time, I do permit myself to skip ahead. It's also worth noting that I have a month of re-reading twice a year, and participate in an All Virago (publisher) All August readalong in an online group, so I can pick and choose from anything I already have in Jan and July and indulge in my love of Virago books in August, wherever they are in the TBR. It really saves agonising over decisions on what to read, too!

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  2. Interesting topic, Samantha! After my experience this year with not buying a single book for the first five months of the year and only reading from my own shelves during that time, and allowing myself free reign for the rest of the year I found a balance I think I'll repeat next year as well. I could easily acquire reading material to exceed life expectancy if I bought all year!

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    1. That does seem like a nice balance. I'm certainly not advocating for buying books indiscriminately! Did you find that you missed book-buying during your five months? Would you have beaten yourself up if you'd come home with one during that time?

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    2. I did have moments of missing acquiring new books, but I never felt like I was suffering or depriving myself. I just *love* browsing in bookshops so that was what I missed more than the actual books. I cannot seem to enter a bookshop without making a purchase so I just had to force myself to stay away. I probably broke even at the end of the year in terms of books in/books out but I didn't keep track. If I'd not been able to stop myself from making a purchase it wouldn't have been a terrible thing, but I would have been a bit disappointed in not rising to my challenge. In the months when I allowed myself free reign I felt NO shame! I thoroughly enjoy new book purchases and I usually purchase second hand so feel no guilt. I would never spend money I couldn't afford on books and it's really the only money I spend on myself besides essentials.

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    3. I find everything you've just written to be eminently sensible! I'm with you on just about every point - I too love browsing bookshops, but have difficulty not bringing a book home, and occasionally I do allow myself a guilt-free trip to the used bookstore (usually a celebratory end-of-semester excursion). And of course, the library sales - not only do I find great Viragos, but I'm always happy to support the local library!

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  3. This is a good question--I know I use this language a lot when I talk about book purchases. I think it's because I don't like wasting money, and if my book buying outstrips my reading from my own shelves, then it feels wasteful. But that's where exercising judgment comes in. Most of the time, I'm good about that, but not always.

    I think, too, that the language we use is part of a larger social pressure to feel guilt about anything that is pleasurable but not obviously virtuous. I see it in the language people use around food. If you eat dessert or junk food you're being "bad," even though there's no harm in eating something just because it's delicious once in a while.

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    1. Hmm, that's a really good thought. Our society seems to have moved away from the concept of moderation to a much stricter binary, in which something is either completely avoided or binged. As you say, judgment is very important! But I hope, once we've chosen, that we can all feel better about ourselves. I find that thinking about book-buying as an investment in future experience, and as a support of used bookstores helps me...but I too use language of guilt, because my apartment is small and my husband generally prefers to read a library book than own it outright.

      I like the thought of books as, say, cookies!

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