You may have noticed that I haven’t blogged much recently about my ever-present battle with my compulsion to buy and hoard books. You might be forgiven for thinking that this means I’ve cracked the habit, that I am a reformed character, angelic in my self-restraint, that I can now walk past bookshops without diverting my eye, without going inside, without smelling the books, without buying.
Well, we all know that isn’t going to be the true story.
I did well for a while, it is true. I managed to go for several weeks without buying any books. Instead I assuaged my addiction by reserving books in the library or adding them to my Amazon wishlist (that I was never going to buy them from anyway because, you know, tax avoidance). I told myself that I didn’t need to buy books, and I really started to get on top of it. I placed Proust in a prominent position on my shelves knowing there was no way on earth I was going to get around to reading the rest of In Search of Lost Time having been mentally exhausted by the first book alone. I reconciled myself to working through my many, many back copies and re-reading old favourites and I really talked myself into the whole less is more mantra.
Then a series of events conspired to take me down. First there was my birthday, then Christmas (they are close together). Then I discovered an independent book shop in my home town.
I had some money and I could do whatever I wanted with it. Of course I wanted to buy books. It started quite innocently. I decided I would buy The Story of the Stone, a five volume Chinese classic, with my birthday money (I haven’t read it yet, surprise!). I did just that, breaking my Proust vow in the process and spending ever-so-slightly more than my birthday fund allowed. Still, it assuaged my desire to buy and for a while that was all I purchased.
Then I went kind of crazy.
I can’t tell you what triggered it off, but I can tell you how it started: one book at a time. Just one book, that’s not breaking my deal is it? And one book turned into another book which turned into a flood of books. Suddenly I had an urgent need for nature/travel books (this I blame on my local bookshop, which had an offer on Gossip From the Forest by Sara Maitland, author of the excellent A Book of Silence which was irresistible, and...guess what? I haven’t read that yet either) and books by writers from around the world which my library, great as it is, couldn’t entirely cater for. Then there was the sudden need for a full catalogue of books by the great female writers (Woolf, Eliot – I already have the full set of Brontes and Austen) and then there was the surprise discovery of a signed first edition of Boy, Snow, Bird that I just had to, had to, own. Then, before you know it, I’m back to trotting to the bookshop and coming back laden, and browsing on Amazon (then buying elsewhere) as though it’s something I’m free to do exactly any time I like.
Don’t think this means that I’ve abandoned our wonderful libraries. No, I use the library too. In fact just recently I got notice that a book I’d reserved had arrived at the library (because the Lancashire Libraries reservation service is amazing) and between reserving it and it arriving I had already bought the book. Go me. No, I’m using the library just as liberally but buying books as well. I’m out of control people. Rein me in.
This weekend I did a little inventory. I was pleased to see, at the very least, that my ‘to read’ pile has shrunk. When I first took my inventory I had 284 books in my back-catalogue to read. The new number is 249, which is a slight improvement (though that doesn’t include the 4 library books I have on loan right now). That being said, part of the reduction has resulted from a semi-cull of my library in which I took aside any book that I thought I was unlikely to read, even if I haven’t read it yet, and placed it in my ‘to get rid of’ pile. So really I have about 50 other books hanging around which I’m no longer counting as part of my library even though they are still in the house. Sometimes I marvel at my capacity for self-deception.
This isn’t really a confession. I’m not sure I have it in me to reform. It is, at best, a moment of honesty. I love books, I love owning books. I love how they look on my shelves and the sense of security that comes from knowing that there is always something good to read in my house. It is like having a well stocked pantry, a source of joy and repletion (though it might make you fat, in the end).
This is the confession of a book-buyer-aholic. There is no hope for me.