In the absence of a regular paycheck, I’ve started paying closer attention to my budget, and it has reminded me that everyone has financial blind spots. It’s easy for me to see that my husband spends too much money on technical gear. But when it comes to buying books, the money I spend never gets subtracted from my mental balance sheet.
The worst part is, that I already have an entire bookcase of unread books in my house, as well as a long list of library holds. The Japanese concept of tsundoku has been getting a lot of attention lately, and I may be the poster child. But I don’t buy books for the emotional gratitude of owning them – at least, I don’t only buy books for that reason. I really do intend to read them, and I do work my way through the piles. It’s just that there is no hope of my ever reading them faster than I bring them into the house. I get two to three unsolicited ARCs in the mail each week, and these alone account for more reading than I could possibly do in a lifetime.
So, in the interest of shining a light on my own blindness, and to give a little love to my impulsive purchases that may never get read, here is a summary of my October book purchases.
It started innocently enough. Over our lunch break during a writing session, I described a problem I was struggling with in a fiction project. My writing partner described a book where the same question had been dealt with effectively. With a few caveats about ways the book was not a model of perfection, she suggested I read it for research. Of course the book was old and out of print, and the library didn’t have it. So I found it online and bought it from a used bookstore in the midwest.
I’ve already written about the Writing for Teens panel discussion that I attended at the Seattle Public Library. All three of the panelists – Kevin Emerson, Karen Finneyfrock, and Jen Longo – were interesting and had valuable things to say. But I had never actually read any of their books. I was at the library, so I could have put holds on their books right then. But I want to support local authors, especially those who take the time to speak to aspiring writers. And my daughter is reading at the level they write for. And Secret Garden Books was there with a table of their books for sale. So of course, I felt the need to buy one book by each, and justified the expense by asking each of them to autograph their book – for my daughter.
A week later, I attended the Reykjavik Writing Jam at Elliott Bay Bookstore, where local author Karen Finneyfrock and Icelandic artist Bragi Olafsson read short stories written for the occasion. Danger, Will Robinson! But copies of their new stories were available for free, thanks to ZAPP. For once I remembered that I had just spent a lot of money on books the previous week and hadn’t even read them yet. (It helped that the two events had an author in common, and I had actually read one of Bragi’s two books that are available in English.)
But, I was supposed to meet a friend at Elliott Bay for lunch on Monday. She was a little late, and that gave me time to browse. It had been a rough morning, and my will was not as strong. Although The Pets was a frustrating read for me, Bragi’s presentation on Saturday made me want to take another other dive into his books. And there was an autographed copy of The Ambassador, just sitting shyly on the shelf at Elliott Bay, hoping for someone to take it home.
Then I saw the J.R.R. Tolkien translation of Beowulf boldly sitting face out on its shelf, just daring me to walk by. As if I could.
Later that week, as part of a writing project, my daughter’s classroom had a visit from children’s book author Stephanie Barden. She talked about the importance of editing, using her first book, Cinderella Smith, as an example. Naturally, we bought an autographed copy.
A few days later, I was reading the October issue of National Geographic Traveler. On page 33 I learned about Vanessa Able, who drove around India in a cheap-ass car and turned it into a book called Never Mind the Bullocks. Well, how could I resist an India travel memoir referencing the Sex Pistols? It was written for me. I busted out the gift card my coworkers gave me when I left the day job, and bought it on Kindle.
Then I fell victim to scope creep. Based on my purchase of a travel memoir and my browsing history full of Iceland, Tales of Iceland: or Running with the Huldufolk in Permanent Daylight” was recommended for me. I remembered meaning to buy that book a couple years ago, and downloaded it for Kindle. At least I remembered to check my Kindle first to ensure that wasn’t already in my electronic tsundoku.
Months ago, an episode of Cosmos sparked an idea for a writing project. I checked out Miss Leavitt’s Stars from the library, and it proved an invaluable resource. If I am going to pursue my project, I need to own the book, so I ordered a print copy of that one, too.
I know that I cannot singlehandedly support the publishing industry, so the only real justification for buying books is to read them – ideally more than once.
So, dear reader, can I ask a favor? If you don’t see any of these books reviewed on my blog before Christmas, can you call me on it?