Thursday, April 26, 2012

Not Buying Books in 2012

I had been going along so well with not buying books this year that it did not even occur to me until I got home from work on Tuesday night with the new Stephen King book tucked under my arm that I had in fact bought my first real book of 2012. (And by “real book” I mean a book and not a literary magazine, even though literary magazines take up space on bookshelves just like books do, except not quite as much.) I had set myself the goal of reading one book from my shelves (with the idea of then putting it in the pile to go to Half Price Books at the end of the year), one library book (to reduce the stack of them that seems always to be metastasizing insidiously next to my reading chair), and one literary magazine, each month this year—a goal that I seem to have pretty well in hand at this point.

I had finished all three of the things I set myself to read for April by the 15th; and now I am about 150 pages into the book from my shelves for May (Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human, by Harold Bloom) and have nearly finished the library book for May, a little pocket guide to the iPad 2 that I had hoped might be useful since Amy now has one of those gadgets. I even allowed myself a bonus book, yet another re-reading of what might be my favorite Bret Easton Ellis novel, The Rules of Attraction. The new Stephen King book, an eighth Dark Tower novel, will be a second bonus book after I finish the Ellis.

I even have a small stack of books from my shelves that are ready to be read and put in the discard pile, enough to get me through August if I stay on pace. The stack of library books is another story, though; at one book per month, it would take me almost two years to get through that stack. I may wind up changing the plan if I can convince myself that there’s no way I’ll wind up bringing in more books than I send out. That has been the goal for the books on my shelves over the last couple of years, but those damned Borders liquidation sales last year (and a hefty new Stephen King book) made the total for 2011 pretty much of a push.

The literary magazines will continue to stack up, but that doesn’t really bother me. Buying literary magazines serves a number of purposes, including supporting the creation of new literature, which is important to me. That’s voting with your dollars in a much larger sense than throwing down for a book. (And yes, I understand that buying an author’s book supports that author; but buying a literary magazine supports lots of authors, and there is almost always something interesting in each one. If you buy a stinker of a novel, you’re stuck with a stinker of a novel. When I read about novels that sound interesting, I check the library; and many times, I find that the library does not have a copy of the novel in its collection. At that point, I head over to the Suggest for Purchase link and fill out the form. So far, the library has added thirteen books to its collections because of purchase suggestions that I have made. That’s at least as good as if I went out and bought those books for myself, with the added bonus that maybe other people will check them out and then buy copies for themselves or as gifts for other people.)

Eventually I am going to thin the ranks of this mini-library I have accumulated in my aboveground lair. I have spent a lot of money over the years on books that I thought might be helpful when I finally became a Writer, books that I would take notes in and then come back to for research purposes when I needed to know something about British royalty, or wine, or the LBJ tapes, or the impeachment trial of President Clinton—or whatever. Becoming a Writer, however, has not come to pass in quite the way that I had hoped; and it also turns out that the magic internets are pretty good for that kind of research—as are public libraries. (Indianapolis has one of the finest public library systems in the country.)

And so the books that I choose to keep on my shelves need to be ones that I love, ones that I go back to over and over again, ones that inspire me to write often and to write well. Those are the keepers. The rest are just taking up space—hopefully not for too much longer.

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