When You No Longer Have Room For Another Bookshelf: Confessions of a Book Addict
I have a problem. Okay, I have a lot of problems, but this article is focusing on one in particular: I am addicted to buying books.
When you read that last sentence, odds are you groaned and moved your cursor to the next tab over, either to Facebook or Twitter. You probably posted a link to this article with a comment boiling down to, “Check out the balls on this guy, whining about buying too many books. Ever hear of small world problems, asshole?”
And that’s perfectly okay. I understand this problem is not as serious as most issues in the world, and using up this site’s bandwidth to discuss it is a waste of everybody’s time. But I’m still going to, anyway, because the more I think about this addiction, the more I realize something needs to change.
So let me repeat myself.
My name is Max, and I am an addict.
THE ART OF TSUNDOKU
積ん読 (“tsundoku”) is a Japanese word described as “the act of leaving a book unread after buying it, typically piled up together with other such unread books”. Well, folks, I am here to tell you I have perfected this art.
A few days ago I sat down and glanced through my digital purchase records: books I’ve bought on Amazon or through Paypal, and determined in 2015, I purchased 113 books at a total of $1,213.34. This does not include books purchased at local bookstores or conventions. I have no official records of these purchases saved, so I’m not bothering to count them. If I had to guess, considering how impulsive I become at cons, the total is probably closer to $2,000. This still does not include every book I acquired in 2015, as publishers and authors are constantly mailing me ARCs of random books.
More fun facts: the most books I bought from the same author were penned by the unfortunately late Tom Piccirilli (if you haven’t read The Last Kind Words, you’re truly missing out) and the most books from the same publisher were released by Broken River Press, which never seems to fail at pumping out excellent crime literature.
According to Goodreads, in 2015 I read a total of 31 books, which accounts for 8,887 pages. I don’t quite believe this is accurate. I probably read a few others that I forgot to document--plus, I skimmed through at least another hundred while reading slush for Perpetual Motion Machine, not to mention the many, many rereads of the novels we actually ended up publishing. But I feel like I shouldn’t count the books I’ve published or the ones submitted to me in hope of acceptance.
Of the 31 books I read in 2015, only 20 belonged to the 113 books I’d actually purchased. I bought 93 books that I still haven’t read, and sometimes highly doubt I ever will. I’ve had to buy additional bookshelves ($60 each at Walmart, baby) just to store these things I’m not even properly enjoying, and instead of making the time to dive into them, I only end up purchasing more. It’s come to the point where I no longer have any room to add another bookshelf in our house, and we live in a pretty decent-sized house. These expenses add up rather quickly, as my girlfriend likes to point out and as I like to blissfully ignore. We both make barely over minimum wage working shit jobs while also attempting to run an unsuccessful small press. Do we have the disposable income to buy a stack of new books every month? Well, no, not really. But does that stop me? Haha, what do you think?
WHY I CAN’T STOP
When I was a kid, my mother was addicted to gambling--slots, mostly--and I always told myself I’d never turn out the same. I’ve strayed away from casinos and the only time I’ve ever played the lotto was last week, during the Great Powerball Orgy of January 2016. However, I’ve been living in a pleasant state of delusion, as I found a more subtle way to gamble without ever having to step foot into a casino: books!
But are books bad for you? No, of course not. Unless the books are terrible or you never even read them to find out. I won’t lie: I’ve gotten drunk plenty of nights and randomly added titles to my Amazon shopping cart, only to receive a mysterious package a few days later with no recollection of the actual purchase.
There is a certain thrill to buying books. Especially with Facebook and Twitter, book-buying is no longer a private hobby. I am fully aware of how stupid this sounds, but it’s exciting to post photos of recently acquired books on social media and bask in the “likes” and comments. It’s exciting to share a common interest with people, and I love nothing more than books--for others to feel the same way about literature is something I had not experienced until embracing social media. None of my friends growing up gave a shit about reading. I was the “weird kid”. Posting these photos and updating my Goodreads account with current-reads is a way to connect to minds I never thought even existed. If I stop buying books, then there’s a fear this sense of community might die.
Books provide comfort. They are the closest to what feels like “home” to me. I have a difficult time leaving a book on a wish-list. It’s like spotting an adorable puppy at the animal shelter and thinking, “Well, maybe I’ll adopt you in a few months, if my other dog dies.” I can’t do it. Life is too short to exhibit patience. The book may not exist next week. I may not exist. These fears are irrational and consuming and I don’t think I’m alone with these feelings. Look in the mirror. How many books are looking back at you?
Listen, buying books is not a bad habit at all. But, like anything in this little world of ours, it can quickly spiral out of control. It is up to each of us individually to stay in charge. There’s no way in hell I intend on stopping any time soon, but I know I need to either slow down or risk waking up naked in an alley next to a dead hooker, covered with books, flesh raw and bloody from a thousand paper cuts (look, I’ve seen movies, I know how these things work).
But what do we do? How do we proceed to live a healthier book-buying life?
For starters, I am vowing to stop posting photos of new books until after I’ve finished reading them. This will give me more incentive to actually stick with one read rather than starting something, then halfway through abandoning it to start the next book I buy. I currently have at least a dozen books I’m in the middle of attempting to finish. It’s chaos.
But what about the books I’ve already finished? There’s still the issue of not having enough room for more bookshelves. The solution here is to either carefully choose books to part with and donate them to a library, or sell them at various used bookstores or through online retailers. My friend Mark Scioneaux recently set up a Facebook group with this specific service in mind, so I recommend heading over there and checking it out before deciding to list anything on eBay.
To improve the organization of what I’m reading, further utilizing the update system on Goodreads will be beneficial, as it easily allows users to keep track of their current-reads. The “update progress” option will motivate me to reach the finish line. Every title abandoned in the “currently-reading” category weighs down my conscience. Regularly clearing it out is the only cure.
I also think it’s a good idea to create a physical "to-read" stack on my work desk, but limit the stack at a maximum of five titles at a time. I'm not sure what to do about the books I'm reading on my eReader. Maybe add sticky notes with the titles written on them and attach them to the wall in front of my desk. The stack will stay here as a way to shame me, staring and judging as I ignore it in favor of
Another rule? I can’t buy another book until the to-read pile has been consumed. And when I do decide to shop for more books, stay smart, don’t rush into the purchase. Research each title, check out the reviews on Goodreads, see what mutual friends have to say about it. And don’t buy more than one at a time. The next “to-read” list can only contain one new purchase, while the other four must be books I’ve already bought but neglected like a shitty parent.
I’ve already promised myself the next book I buy will be Don Winslow’s The Cartel, and I can’t tell you how much I’m looking forward to actually buying the thing. For other potential parents, I’d like to suggest considering adopting a cute little dinosaur newborn by the name of Escape From Dinosauria, which may or may not have been co-written by the very author of this article.
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