From the time I had two pennies to rub together, I spent them at the bookstore. Inevitably, the sheer magnetic force of so much amazing reading material would part me with what little disposable income I had on hand. Family and friends alike learned that “going to the bookstore” entailed multiple hours of feverish exploration and unfettered splurging. As I grew older, they started implementing diversionary tactics to keep me from temptation.
Over the past few years, however, a series of interlocking events made me question my habit. Surviving a year on savings as an unpaid publishing intern and job hunter instilled me with a strict sense of frugality as well as a newfound appreciation for the library. Even with free advance reading copies, when you read hundreds of books per year, you simply can’t afford to purchase them all. With research and planning, I learned to order books before they became popular to avoid being stuck on interminable wait lists. In fact, after a year of being a library regular, I found that I preferred the variety of its selection to the limitations of smaller bookstores. I was that library patron—the one that all the librarians knew by name with the enormous pile of books.
Moving recently also gave me a newfound appreciation for just how many books I have collected over the years. With all of my possessions packed and ready, I found that over half of my boxes were filled with dusty, treasured novels. Even though I had already given away boxes of titles to Better World Books and saved some childhood favorites at my parent’s house, I still had more books than kitchenware, clothing, desk fixings, and linens. After spending most of the last weeks of September and the first weeks of October lugging boxes of books, my back is also grateful that I am turning over a new leaf.
Too often, in packing my books, I would come across a title that I did not particularly enjoy, that I would not recommend to a friend or reread myself, and that did not give me the warm fuzzies when I glimpsed it on my bookshelf. Why did I buy that? It was in the news; I needed something to read at the airport; it was a gift. Then, I would think about all of the books that I would love to have on my shelves. The old favorites that had somehow eluded me at the bookstore or the new favorites that I had borrow from a friend or the library. Why should I buy it myself if I have already read it?
But is a book really worth less to you if you have already read it? Is it the novelty of a fresh read that we pay for when we buy a new book?
Especially when finances were tight, I would find myself questioning my book buying choices. Halfway through a hardcover I picked up at the airport, I would start wincing at the prose or the disappointing plot. Why did I pay $25 for this hardcover book club title? The reviewer who recommended it clearly missed some crucial failings. Then, the book would sit on my shelf, collecting dust.
It was moments like these–of book buyer’s remorse–that cured me of buying books for novelty instead of for substance. Occasionally, I do sneak a new book into my pile, but now I mostly buy titles that I have read, loved, and plan to read again.
I consider myself a conscientious collector, carefully allocating my budget to support authors I really love, so that when I look at the books on my shelf I have no remorse about what I find there.
How about you? Are you a conscientious collector? A bookstore junkie?