No New Books: My Month Long Self-Imposed Book-Buying Ban

My unread pile is nearing 350. There are literally almost 350 books sitting in piles in my living room waiting to be read (hence “unread pile”). For a variety of reasons I would like to reduce the pile. I don’t have an exact number in mind, definitely not zero, but as I written before 350 feels like too much. Reading the books is one way to reduce the pile but like getting out of debt or losing weight, the best strategy focuses on both outputs and inputs. In other words, it isn’t enough to read my books; I also have to stop growing the pile.

Between my city’s annual book festival, the opening of a new independent bookstore, and a monthly trip to my favorite comic store, April was a big book-buying month for me. I don’t remember the exact number but would guess I bought between twenty and twenty-five books in April. I read fifteen books so the net increase to my unread pile was somewhere between five and ten. At this rate my unread pile would stretch to 400 in no time. It was time to think seriously about the number of books coming into my possession. I had to stop buying so many books. Not forever, just temporarily. Just for the month of May. That meant thirty-one days of abstaining from Barnes & Noble, Amazon.com, and my two favorite local independents.

The first day of a diet is easy. Day one is full of high hopes, possibilities, and how awesome everything is going to be. You’ve made a plan and now you’re putting it in motion and it’s all going to work out, you just know it. It’s later that things get difficult. For me, the book-buying ban started getting difficult on May 2nd. Between daily check-ins with bookish social media and working in a library (all be it an academic library) interesting books constantly pop up on my radar. On day two I came up with a half-dozen reasons why buying one or two books that I really, really wanted would be okay. Pathetic, I know. I’m stronger than that! I had to at least make it one week.

My book buying is both methodical and impulsive. I rarely buy hardbacks so when a new book that looks interesting is published in hardback I make note of it and wait for the paperback release. When the book eventually comes out in paperback and I go to purchase it inevitably something else catches my eye on the way to the register. Controlling impulsive spending would be the key to making it to the end of May without unread pile growing any larger. The best idea I could come up with was to go fully methodical. I began keeping a list of what would normally have been impulsive purchases. If they still looked worth it on June 1st I would get them then. By the end of week one there were five titles on the list.

I love bookstores. Along with libraries, bookstores have long been my happy place. If I’m feeling stressed about something and need to calm down before I can talk about it, I run, go to a bookstore, and on occasion, run to a bookstore. There are few things more peaceful and calming, as well as exciting and optimistic, than walking through aisles of books. (Just think of all the wonderful words and worlds between all those covers!) I pledged not to buy any books for thirty-one days but there was no way to go that long without going into a bookstore. So I took my impulse list, vowed not to pull out my wallet, and ventured into my local bookstore. It was wonderful and calming and my list of books to buy in June grew a little bit longer.

When you give up something, whether by choice or force, your mind can’t help but think of the thing you can no longer have. Even if the thing wasn’t a part of your day-to-day, all of the sudden it’s all you can think about. As a kid I used to give up sweet and delicious treats for Lent. It shouldn’t have been so hard because it’s not like I ate dessert on a daily basis. Likewise, I don’t buy books everyday or even every week but when I couldn’t buy books at all new books were all I thought about, at least at first.

Eventually the thoughts faded. By the third week of May I had stopped of dreaming of buying new books. I figured that on June 1st I would be making a mad dash to the bookstore. That didn’t happen. Aside from not increasing my unread pile, the book-buying ban seems to have made me think a little more and a little longer before buying a book. I did eventually buy some books but not until June 4th and only two, not the nine that were by then on my impulse list. Who knows, maybe this is the start of more considered book purchases and spending. And perhaps I will really start to make some headway on my unread pile.

Are you facing an unread pile that is becoming a mountain? How are you handling it? Not buying books or not worrying about it all?

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