A blog for everything bookish

Wednesday 21 August 2013

Confessions of a compulsive book hoarder...crunching the numbers

As part of the whole process of dealing with addiction, it’s important to get to grips with the scale of the problem. Or so I'm told. There’s no established scale for book addiction, the government doesn’t issue any guidelines about how many ‘units’ are healthy or unhealthy and when to consult your doctor because you have a problem. I considered writing to the government to ask them to give this their urgent attention, but they're too busy cementing their totalitarian police state right now so I thought I might as well do it myself. I mused over a number of ideas for scales and measures, and came up with the following:

1. Total amount spent on books
This looks like a good measure and it's also an interesting indication of how much I can expect to save if I actually succeed. However, whilst spend is a good indicator it could be skewed by one off expensive purchases (such as academic volumes or collectible editions), or large numbers of second-hand, swopped books or collections which can stack up the numbers with relatively low impact on overall cost (e.g. 4 for £10). Perhaps this is not such a great measure of addiction after all.

2. Number of days which pass without book buying
Kind of like having those two alcohol-free days in a week, the number of days you can pass without buying a book appears to be a good indicator of compulsion.  Being unable to go a couple of days without sidling into Waterstones and filling one of those lovely book bags with hot-off-the-press  goodies is probably not a good sign. Then I thought: what if you also read all those books? A person might buy a book a day but if they read a book a day it's not really a buying compulsion (though it probably is a compulsion of a sort and for financial purposes it might be a good idea to find a good library). Again, this as a measure needs context and on its own might not be a true indicator of compulsive buying.

3. Numbers of books purchased
Like the amount spent, the numbers of books purchased during any given period seems a good indicator of book buying addiction. Yet again, though, whether this is a true measure will depend on whether the books purchased matches the books read, or whether there are remainders. Speaking of remainders...

4. Number of unread books
For me, I think this is the best standalone measure of actual book buying addiction. It is all very well buying ten books a week, but if you can only read one that’s probably a sign of a problem. If you buy forty seven in one go, as I did once (I blame The Book People, their collections are shamefully cheap and interesting), which represents more than most people’s year-long reading capacity then that has to be indicative of book buying addiction. That being said, having a book backlog isn’t always a terrible sign. Equally, the size of the backlog is not a fair measure. If someone has a backlog of 100 books but can read 200 books in a year, that’s probably not so bad. However, someone with a backlog of 20 books who reads 1 a year has a 20 year supply. That’s a problem (because you don’t read enough, obviously).

So after thinking it all over I concluded that taking any single measure as a sign of addiction is probably a little unfair. People who have inherited their book-collecting parent’s library could be unfairly maligned (if only that was my problem), and spending a lot of money on a book might be indicative of investment or a studious nature. So, after some consideration, here are my proposed rules:

Measure 1: total spend
Low indicator: less than £100 per year
Medium indicator: £100 to £500 per year
High indicator: £500+ per year

Measure 2: days between purchases
Low indicator: 14 days +
Medium indicator: 7 to 14 days
High indicator: less than 7 days

Measure 3: Numbers of books purchased (annually)
Low indicator: less than 20
Medium indicator: 20 to 100
High indicator: 100+

Measure 4: Number of unread books
Low indicator: less than 6 months
Medium indicator: 6 months to a year
High indicator: more than one year

(calculated on the total number of books divided by the average number of books read per year, to give an reading time backlog)

Scoring medium or high in 3 or more of the above categories, I think, is indicative of a serious book buying addiction.

So, I have vacillated and procrastinated and mused and eventually I've got to get to the point of admitting the shameful scale of my problem. So, without further ado, here it is (note: I have only been able to measure the last three months so I’ll give my three month figure and average up to an annual total):

Measure 1: £178.96 (I hope my husband isn’t reading now) which includes a six book subscription to And Other Stories (which is really a public service).

Annual figure would therefore be £715.84 and therefore high

Measure 2: I haven’t actually been able to measure this one, as I have become extremely adept at disguising my book buying habits, for example by buying from different suppliers or swapping. However I think it is true to say that I if a week passes without a book being bought, that is extremely uncommon. Therefore high

Measure 3: 34. Annual figure is therefore 136 and, yep you guessed it, high

Measure 4: 284 (gulp). I’m a pretty avid reader, so far this year I’ve read 50 books and counting, but best case scenario I can manage about 75 books in a year. I still think that’s pretty good going, but even at that rate I have almost 4 years worth of unread books in the house high high high

Oh, the shame.

Whilst I was in the mood to do numbers, I figured it would be useful to try and calculate how long it might take me to read Proust as that will give me an idea of how long I have to have actual willpower. I have the Vintage version which totals 3708 pages (yikes). I can read, on a work day, around 50 pages per day. At that rate it will take me 74 days to read Proust, which works out to 10 weeks. I read less at weekends, so probably around 12 weeks all in. Can I survive 12 weeks without book buying? So far it’s been less than a week, and I’m not feeling the urge too strongly yet (though there have been moments). Neither have I started Proust (I decided to read a couple of the Booker long-listed books first). It’s going to be a long haul.

That's my shame exposed. Please share yours. Please.  


  1. As a fellow book addict and (former) accountant myself, I appreciate your problem! I found the best way to reduce my book buying was to become a librarian - and it's worked on the whole.

  2. Hi blackcountrylibrarian, thanks for stopping by :-) I'd absolutely love to become a librarian, I think it would be my dream career and I envy you being able to follow your love of books in this way. Maybe one day. In the meantime, I am having to rely on my sense of shame and willpower (the former being the more powerful tool)!