Our Reading Lives

46 Excruciating Days And Nights Of Not Buying Books

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Every year, I brainstorm something to sacrifice for 46 days and nights. Some years, I find something I can do. Some years, I consider both. This year for Lent, I found myself in Mississippi, a new place, with six weeks of luggage. Along with yoga pants, crystals, and my grandmother’s ring, I had lugged 16 books.

On Ash Wednesday, I pinpoint my sacrifice. I remember two holiday pictures from photo albums. In one, I hold roller skates and display a courtesy crooked smile. In the other, I hold a book about cats. The moons of my eyes say everything: part laugh, part soul-smile, part squeal. I don’t even love cats like that, or remember receiving or reading that particular paperback, but my love of literature has deepened, become an even larger part of me. New books seem perfect, pain-inducing.

The Kitchen God's Wife book coverOn Day 2 of not buying books, my love and I walk to the library. I want a library card but forget to bring a piece of mail with a local address. Seeing my disappointment, the librarian suggests the book swap stations. I leave with The Kitchen God’s Wife by Amy Tan and a thesaurus, which I’m ecstatic over. Our cottage’s WiFi is as slow as our promenade, and my dictionary was lonely.

During a soul-to-soul talk with my cousin, she recommends a transformative book. Mid-conversation, I download a preview. I finish it and wish I could charge it. It’s only Day 3. During Lent, I will repeat this action of sampling and yearning nine times.

By Day 10, I apply for my library card and leave with There There by Tommy Orange, disbelieving my luck. I finish it in ten days.

The Old Drift book coverIn the evenings leading up to Day 26, I obsess over a coupon. On its expiration date, I ask my husband if I can receive books for Easter. His answer: of course. I add two titles to my cart, and save him 10% and shipping (for being a member) plus an additional 15%. I wonder how I will bear what looms like a lifetime to read Namwali Serpell’s The Old Drift.

On the morning of Day 27, I call the library, asking for three books. I zone out as they offer an apology. I thank them for checking then draft an email to a publicity firm, begging for galleys. Knowing this isn’t my best moment, I save it to my drafts to revise the desperation out of it.

Good Talk book coverThat night, I receive a $50 rebate for buying $141 of something. Since I never counted on this impossible thing, it feels like free money. Because I can’t use it at ATMs or gas pumps, I try to buy eyeliner and BB cream, but the site keeps kicking me off, insisting I refresh my cart. Frustrated, I ask my husband if it’s cheating to spend the unexpected money—that feels so unlike money—on books. “Does it expire?” he asks. I nod, and he says it’s OK. I buy him an album and myself Good Talk by Mira Jacob, which I read all 368 pages of in one sitting. I buy Samantha Irby’s Meaty, and suspect karma as the internet kicks my computer off 8,293 times while downloading the ebook. In Catholic fashion, I feel guilty.

When Easter arrives, we spend our first weekend in our new home. Among boxes and with travel approaching, I only dream of buying books. I take my money to Los Angeles and Pittsburgh. Thankfully, I’ve discovered alternative ways to read new titles, and this knowledge gives longer than my Lenten promise takes. In L.A., a friend in editing selects ARCs for me. In the Burgh, another friend, who teaches, gifts me extra copies, and I share my duplicate books with her. With what I saved and maybe more, I restock my library.