It is almost 2014 and, to mirror the tradition of the time of year, I’d just like to reflect a moment on the year that was 2013. 2013 will always, now, be known to me as the year I realised I’d become a compulsive book hoarder and decided to do something about it. Like many self-discoveries, this one has been a journey and a journey that has not ended and will not end until I do. I have hoarding compulsions. Compulsions are rarely defeated easily (and if they are it is more probable that they have simply been mis-described, exaggerated).
I have stopped buying books, or rather I have largely stopped buying books. I consider this a considerable improvement. I have given in, now and again. I am starting to recognise the key danger signs: a winsome look from my daughter (a future hoarder if you ever saw one, as the pile of unread ‘How to Train Your Dragon’ books is a testament to); days when I’m feeling stressed or harried and I wander into the bookshop for a moment’s respite amongst the shelves; the death of a favoured author (which is my key excuse...I mean reason...for buying The Good Terrorist by Doris Lessing, which was really awfully good and a worthwhile buy). I will confess, now, to having bought several books in this past week. It was my birthday recently, and I was given some money with which to buy some books so I finally invested in The Story of the Stone, which I’m very much looking forward to reading. But that’s it. The money is spent. No more.
I am starting to develop coping mechanisms, the most important of which was rediscovering the library which I remain ashamed to have forgotten. I must, at this point, take a moment to commend the absolute excellence of the Lancashire Library Service, which provides a brilliant service to the community. They have saved me several times from an impulsive purchase. Instead my first port of call is now always the library catalogue and I have been massively impressed at how quickly the Lancashire Library Service responds to a popular new book. Through them I have read most of the Booker nominated novels (those that I hadn’t already purchased before I stopped myself), Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch (marvellous) and the fantastic Booker winner Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries. The ability to reserve a book, even if I have to wait weeks for it, has been enough to assuage my urge. If there is one thing I have learned this year it is this: use your library. Even if only occasionally. They provide a magnificent service that helps so many people. At a time when they remain under threat, boots through the door will help to preserve them. They have books. They want you to take them.
Re-reading is something I really want to work on next year. There are many books I would like to read again, and probably a small core of books that I would love to become a part of my being. Having whizzed through The Luminaries and The Goldfinch I would definitely like to read those two again (aided, I should add, by the kindness of a friend who gifted me with my own copies for my birthday). A Tale for The Time Being is another repeat I’d like to make, alongside other more established books in my collection: Lost Paradise and Rituals by Cees Nooteboom, The Last Samurai by Helen DeWitt, The Magic Toyshop by Angela Carter, The True Deceiver by Tove Jansson, Remainder by Tom McCarthy, Ghostwritten by David Mitchell, Jane Eyre to name but a few. I could spend the whole year re-reading but I think I need to balance the re-reads against the unreads so my ‘to-read’ pile continues to shrink. And then there are the books yet to be. As always, my reading ambitions exceed my time and ability.
I haven’t read Proust. I read the first book of Proust and realised that if I stick to my pledge I may never buy another book again. I may simply be too young (not that I get to say that much anymore) or maybe I’m not of the right frame of mind, but I found his meanderingly pointless repetitiveness spectacularly unappealing. It doesn’t really matter now. I have learned so much about my book hoarding proclivities that I don’t think I need the barrier of Proust to prevent me. What I want to do instead is make sure that my buying matters, that it makes a difference. I am a proud subscriber to And Other Stories, a not for profit organisation that publish some amazing books on the back of individual subscriptions and I will continue to support this organisation (and encourage others to do the same) in spite of my commitment to hoard less. I would like to set aside a little money each month and allow myself a single purchase, but instead of buying from Amazon or The Book Depository or one of those other internet behemoths, instead I will head down to my local independent bookshop (Ebb & Flow in Chorley, which carries an excellent albeit small selection of books) and spend my money there. I feel much happier spending a little more but putting money into a local community business. There are so few these days, and my contribution will be small but hopefully valuable. Overall I intend to spend less on books, but make my purchases more considered and more carefully. I think that’s a reasonable goal, for the person who once bought 47 books in one go.