It’s time to choose another book for the Slaves of Golconda reading group, so head on over to the blog to vote for your choice. The selections are mine this time, and I hope you find something you like. Everyone is welcome to participate.
My question has to do with TBR piles. I wrote a post the other day about Emily’s “Attacking the TBR Tome” challenge, a part of which is the commitment not to buy books until the challenge books are read. This struck me as a sensible challenge, but then Zhiv wrote a spirited defense of acquiring books without guilt, and I began to wonder what, if anything, to do with my desire to buy books accompanied by my feeling that I shouldn’t acquire them unless I’m planning on reading them soon.
There are two book-owning models I’ve got in my mind, battling each other for dominance and leaving me feeling conflicted. For most of my life, I either didn’t buy books unless I needed them for school, or I bought them only when I planned on reading them right away. This is how my parents handled things and how my friends did as well. My house growing up always had a lot of books, but we didn’t have much space to accumulate many more, and we didn’t have the money to buy a lot of books either. We visited the library, mostly. Then for a long time everyone I knew moved frequently, so it didn’t make much sense to accumulate a lot of books. Even books for school were more of a pain to carry around than anything else. And then when I bought a house and felt more settled, I was happy to accumulate books, but no other method occurred to me other than acquiring them as I read them. Hobgoblin and I visited bookshops regularly, but we did so when we needed something new to read, and we generally came home and read our new books right away.
Blogging changed all that, of course; I read about other people buying books at amazing rates, and it seemed like so much fun, I started doing it myself. Then I joined Book Mooch, and while I gave away some books, I got even more back. I visited library book sales and moved to a town with three used bookshops. If you want to know what happened, check this post out. The piles pictured there have gotten much taller, and a third pile on the floor has sprouted up, somehow.
Zhiv says I shouldn’t feel guilty about this, and I think he’s probably right. I don’t like being an acquisitive person, but surely having a lot of books doesn’t really qualify? And most of my TBR collection is made up of used books, so it’s not like I’ve spent a lot of money on them. And even if I had, isn’t it worth while to support the publishing industry?
But I’m someone who never passes up a reason to feel guilty, and so I do. My question is, how many of you have had a similar experience and feel a similar guilt? How do you deal with it?
22 responses to “Slaves of Golconda choices and a question”
I really like Zhiv’s attitude on the subject, but then I’ve always been one to acquire books that sounded good that I would read…eventually. Granted I tend to acquire them at a much faster rate now than ever before, but even when I was in school I never really felt badly about buying a book I might not read for some time. The only thing that is keeping me from buying books now is my determination to rid myself of debt, though I’ve found a few ways around actually buying books–but still acquiring them (and no worries, none of my methods includes stealing!). I like the idea of having a library that I can go back to again and again. I might pick up something to reread or it might come in handy when I’m reading something related. I might not be in the mood for a particular book for years, but it’s time will come and I often pick up a book and while reading it will discover a receipt inside showing I bought it five or more years ago. But the time is right to read it now, rather than earlier. I do go through and weed on occasion. I know many people buy and recycle, but I like the idea of a library as a whole unit where the books are interrelated and having meaning–often whole groups of books will be related to something I was doing in my life or some interest that caught my attention. I tend to get so attached to a story oftentimes I have a hard time parting with it, though I know many people have problem passing books along to someone else. Someday my library will belong to someone else, but I want to enjoy it while it’s mine. And like you I have no qualms feeling guilty over many things in life, but book buying has never been one of them (thankfully). 🙂
And by the way, I only wish I had a house large enough to have built in shelves where they could all have their place and sit organized and alphabetized, but I’m probably greedy enough, so will be happy with what I have! 🙂
Oh, if there’s something to feel guilty about, I find a way to feel guilty. If I’m acquiring books, I feel guilty about how many unread books I have. If I’m reading from my shelves, I feel guilty about not supporting the industry or trying anything new to me.
Truly, I’m wanting to read from my shelves for a practical reason–space! Books are starting to spill off my shelves, and I really don’t like having stacks on the floor. I tend to only keep books that I expect I’ll reread, and I have lots of books that I’m eager to read once but that I doubt I’ll want to revisit. If I can read a bunch of those and pass them on I’ll have space again. One bookcase of unread books to choose from seems like plenty to me.
My TBR books are all in specific bookcases and listed as such within my book inventory software program. All my books become read at some point in time but not necessarily in the order they were bought. As a collector of books I should add that some books are immediately put in archival wrapping and then in specially made archival boxes and then put on a special self. Each box has a lapel on the outside with its name and publication date. I may not read the collector edition of any book but the book is read in some other non-collectable publication.
I do read the works of specific authors and will buy them at the date of their release. These books are always read immediately. There was a time when I could go to a used bookstore and tell you if I had already read a book or not. Now with age and the slowing of the mind I must take a printed copy of specific authors with me to used bookstores or library sales. That does not mean I will not purchase another author if a book intrigues me.
I love books -they have been at the center of my life since I was thirteen. I’ll end because fate has a strange way of repeating itself as I will soon leave my entire collection of books into the hands of my thirteen year-old grandson whom we are raising. Although he is the math genius in the family – he reads constantly.
I feel more wasteful and disappointed that I can’t find the time to read those books which I want to read. Time is always the precious commodity, isn’t it?
If you can afford it and you have space, it’s nothing to feel guilty about. But if you must feel guilty, then you could assuage it by having a periodic clearing out and donating the books. First nations schools (Native American in the States) hunger for books and I’m sure that there are many other places that could use them.
It seems a shame to feel guilt about acquiring books, assuming you have the income and facilities to house them. I say leave the guilt to those that waste time acquiring fripperies like fast cars, designer frocks, crack-cocaine and shallow experiences.
Dorothy, I tend to buy books like a squirrel storing up acorns for the winter. The only problem with this model is that my “tree” currently has more “acorns” than I could consume for several winters! I don’t favor feeling guilty about book-buying either, but I do struggle to understand my own compulsive tendencies in this regard. Your post–and many others on the same subject of late–have made for fascinating reading in this regard. Thanks!
Well, I guess my guilt comes in when I realize just how many more books I have unread than read! And, that’s when I think I should hold off on buying but it’s so hard when I have Bookmooch, Half Price Books and coupons to use. So the guilt quickly vanishes 🙂
Off to see the selections for the next Slaves book!
I don’t feel guilty as much as I feel embarrassed by my riches. I joke that I am saving for my retirement and it’s somewhat true, like Richard’s squirrel hoarding acorns for winter, I want to be prepared for the moment when time opens up or for whatever whim may strike. When I was a kid I didn’t have much money to buy books nor did I have the space to keep them. When I was in college I had even less space and money and I moved a lot. Once I had space and money and a husband who loves books as much as I do, well there was no chance for me. I love having a library in my house and I love being surrounded by books.
When you read for pleasure it is hard to even think of imposing some sort of discipline. I like being surrounded by books, the ones I’ve read as well as some I’d like to read. But I must admit I also have on my shelves some books I will probably never read and I’m having to clear out a lot of them because I’m moving to somewhere smaller. I’m sad to lose them. I don’t necessarily read in a linear fashion, one book after another. This weekend I dipped into six or seven. But, on the other hand, it’s very satisfying to set yourself a target from time to time and read all the books on your list one after the other.
Wow. Didn’t have computer access over the weekend and was busy at the end of last week, so I missed this discussion, even after getting all worked up. I have to say, Dorothy, that you’re awfully good at managing these things and being thoughtful, all-too-human penchant for finding things to feel guilty about aside. After my rant I went over to EB’s original post and felt kind of bad that I reacted so strongly, as her suggestion seems to make great sense for her own situation. I had an uninformed aversion to her suggestion as a challenge, especially one that you, Dorothy, were considering after your excellent recent book buying forays near and far. But the issue at question remains, and I should probably write my own thoughts on it out over at my own sleepy little bloggy backwater. Great post and great discussion here–so many interesting approaches. Edd handing off the archival library to the grandson is classic, but it’s fun to see all of the reactions.
Regarding both books and yarn (I design knitwear), I try to walk a middle line: there’s no reason to feel guilty for having a decent-sized to-be-read pile (or stash), but sometimes my acquisitiveness starts to get in the way of my reading enjoyment, which is really much more rewarding spiritually than the buying part. So when that happens I try to cut back on book-buying: try to curb the compulsiveness a little bit, so that when I go back to it I can truly savor all the lovely things about shopping for, buying, and owning books. The bottom line: it’s more fun for me when I feel I’m in control of my buying, not the other way around, and when I feel like I’m keeping the reading-and-writing experience (rather than the buying experience) front-and-center. My two cents. 🙂
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I agree with Teresa, about feeling guilty for having so many unread books, but also about running out of space! In a perfect world, I’d read what I buy as I acquire it, and then pass on the books I know I’m not going to read again to others who will enjoy them. My book buying has been way out of hand in the last two years, because it’s so easy to acquire inexpensive books from the used bookstores at $2-4 a copy! I can’t pass that up, feeling that I might not find the book again! (And you were with me in NY, and saw all of the terrific finds I took home that day! Lopate! Prose! Lamott!).
I also have those squirrel tendencies. We have an elderly friend in Vermont who is able to live in a luxurious (compared to others) assisted living facility. They have a small library there, but a quick scan of the shelves tells me that if I lived there, I would die for lack of books I want to read, unless I could beg a nurse to go to the town library with my list for me. So…I continue to hoard books for my old age, when I will have all of the time in the world to read, and hopefully catch up then. I know…sick. 🙂
I like Zhiv’s attitude. I excuse my profligate book-buying, because books don’t count in my calculus of materialism. My profligate shoe-buying, on the other hand…
But actually, I do manage to feel guilty about buying too many books. About once a year I try to stop myself for as long as I can, and catch up on reading the TBR mountains that no longer fit on my shelves. But my self-restraint never lasts very long!
I agree with Anthony – there are worse vices to have! I once mentioned my book buying addiction to my husband in a ‘I shouldn’t do this’ kind of way, and he said ‘It makes you happy, it’s extremely cheap compared to you wanting to buy clothes or go out for meals, and I like to have lots of books around us as there’s always something for me to read, too.’ He is very sensible. And when books are first published here in the UK there is often a deal on them (three for two, or money off) that doesn’t last forever. Then they become expensive backlist, so it’s worth getting them when you see them.
Pitching in a bit belatedly here, I am with those who see books as something good to have around. Like you, I couldn’t buy a lot in earlier phases of my life (especially as a student) and I think the guilt I can still feel when I buy books now (or, for that matter, when I do most ‘personal’ shopping) is a hang0ver from those frugal days. But I see a good library as an investment. As my sister (who buys a lot more books than I do) once pointed out, a book is typically cheaper than a decent bottle of wine, provides about as much pleasure, and lasts a lot longer! I like to think of the books I haven’t read yet as ripening on the shelf…
Also, I moved a lot as a student and as a result did quite a bit of ‘purging’ of my modest collection–and I have come to really regret being so ‘practical.’ Even books I really dislike and think I’ll never read again I usually hang on to now (though I got rid of The Virgin Suicides, ick). Because I work with books professionally, it’s hard to predict when something might provide a useful example, or come to mean something else to me than what it did on a first reading.
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I’m going to be cutting back on the number of books I accumulate simply because we’ll probably be moving at some point next year and houses are more expensive in the new location; we may not have space for all the books we already own. I’ve bought books with great abandon for close to ten years now and I wish I could continue to do so, or at least maintain the stockpile that I have.
Anyway, I think you should do whatever makes you happiest–and adapting different strategies over a period of time should give you an idea which is best for you.
Oooo, great questions! But I really do think I’m going to have to address them in a real blog post this time.
Danielle — what a wonderful explanation of why you buy books! You are so right that a might buy a book now, but find that I want to read it five years from now, and there’s nothing wrong with that. I wonder sometimes whether I’m guessing right, and whether the books I’m buying now will interest me at all in the coming years. I suppose some of them won’t, but a lot of them will. I’m aware that my interests change all the time, so if I’m not interested in something now, I probably will be later. I, too, like the idea of having my own library; these days I’m just changing my idea of it from a library where I’ve read everything, to a library where I haven’t.
Teresa — I’m glad to hear I’m not the only obsessively guilty one out there! (Although I’m not glad you feel guilt so much — I know just how little fun that is.) We are doing okay on shelf space for now, but our house is pretty small, so the day may come when we have to do some serious purging. But we’ll deal with that time when it comes 🙂
Edd — you must have a wonderful collection of books! I would love to be able to browse it. Your grandson is certainly a lucky person. I might want to catalog all my books electronically at some point; it would be interesting to know how many we have.
Bikkuri — good point. I should think in terms of time and not the number of books I own.
Lilian — excellent point. I have taken some of my books and put them on the free book tables at school, so interested students can have them for free. I do like the idea of passing them on to other people.
Anthony — you are right — there are much bigger things to worry about! Compared to other types of acquisitiveness, buying books is pretty tame.
Richard — thank you! I like that metaphor of storing acorns. I’m well-prepared for any kind of reading emergency 🙂 I, too, should be able to make it through multiple winters.
Iliana — there are so many cheap ways of acquiring books that it’s nearly impossible to resist them, isn’t it? I just ordered another one from Book Mooch (but I’m not feeling guilty anymore, so it’s okay!)
Stefanie — we are quite alike, I think 🙂 It’s a wonderful thing to have the money and space for books now, and I should enjoy it. It’s very good to be prepared, right?
Joseph — it does come down to enjoying being surrounded by books. I can see how hard it would be to have to get rid of some of your books — sorry you have to do that! It IS good to have lots of books around me; that way I can choose what and how to read with a minimum of fuss.
Zhiv — I hope you do write your own post on the subject. I do really enjoy the book-buying excursions I go on, and whatever guilt I feel, it’s not strong enough to make me stop those, so I’m in very little danger there. Emily’s challenge is fun in the sense that everyone is adapting it to suit their own needs, and I may end up focusing on the reading and not the book-buying part.
Emily — you have an excellent point about balance there. If acquiring books gets in the way of enjoying my reading, that’s a problem, and if not, it’s probably okay. It should be more about the reading experience, not the book-buying experience, so I’ll focus on that.
Debby — well, that’s a sobering thought. I assume it’s always easy to acquire books, but what if for some reason it’s not? There’s a lot we take for granted when it comes to reading (fully-functioning eyesight being a major one). You’ve seen me at the bookstores too — we both definitely know the appeal of those very cheap, very tempting used books!
Gentle Reader — I think you’re right that books don’t really count when it comes to materialism, or at least cheap paperbacks don’t. If I were a collector of rare and expensive books it might be different — maybe. I’m not sure. But as others have said, there are worse things!
Litlove — yay for your husband! He IS very sensible. Hobgoblin and I have two things we spend a lot of money on — books and cycling — and the books are by far the cheaper. I should celebrate that instead of worrying about acquiring too many.
Rohan — I regret some of the books I’ve gotten rid of as well and should learn a lesson from that. And you’re right about the profession — you never know when a particular book might come in handy. If nothing else, I might want to lend one to a student (although only a very trust-worthy one!).
SFP — that’s a good reason to cut back, and you’re right that people need to have different methods of dealing with books that match what is going on in their life. I hope you are able to take all your current books with you.
Emily Barton — I look forward to your post!