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Our Reading Lives

I Broke My Book Buying Ban and I am Not One Bit Sorry

As readers, we sometimes ask quite a lot of ourselves. We might make TBR lists and plan our reads ahead, prepare schemes on how to buy books and bullet journals to keep track of what we read, and create challenges with how many books we want to read each year.

Sometimes, when things don’t go according to plan, it does feel like an important failure and like we are less than as readers.

I’m here to give you permission to let go of all that. Not that you need permission, I am not a major entity, but if you need someone to hold your hand in the darkest time of being a reader, someone to tell you all those things do not constitute a failure, and there are no winners or losers at reading, I can be that person. Go and set yourself free.

My Book Buying Ban Experience

The pandemic has been hitting everyone in different ways. Things went alright personally in the last two years (if you exclude my internal and external screams of frustration, because why people can’t follow basic rules that protect themselves and others is beyond me), but in general I am aware I have suffered less than many. My friends and family are still safe and mostly healthy, and I spent most of my time at home anyway, even when it was not a requirement. But if there’s one particular way the pandemic hit me, and that was truly a shit show, it was work wise.

I moved to another country in August 2019. By the time the pandemic rolled around, I was still settling in, trying out jobs and figuring out how I wanted to restart my life in this place. I became redundant at work a couple of times. Once, in a job I had barely started, because everything closed down, so they didn’t need me anymore. If it can be challenging finding a job under pre-pandemic circumstances, finding one during a pandemic was frustrating. 

For a very long time in 2020, I worked only two days a week, which took a great toll on my savings, and some on my mental health. Staying home so many days a week, even when I was busy, alongside the worry with my finances, really made me feel tired and useless.

I know that our value isn’t defined by how much we produce, but I truly enjoy working, and having a routine, so having nothing to do while feeling the pressure of finding another job was a bit complicated.

On top of all this, especially as 2021 rolled around, and combined with the feeling I had due to my job (I’m a bookseller) to read as much as possible, my TBR started to give me anxiety. 

At times, I would look at my TBR cart and be just short of starting to hyperventilate. I quickly realised I didn’t want this kind of reading life.

Reading, although it was and is now part of my job, is also a hobby and has only given me joy throughout the years. I needed to make sure it continued to do so.

Sometime at the beginning of this year, for the reasons mentioned above (financial, feeling like I was drowning in my own TBR, wanting to go through my eARCs), I decided to go on a book buying ban. 

In my entire life, this was never necessary before; I used to have a small TBR and almost no contact with books on social media (so, no FOMO). I also didn’t have a big budget to spend on books. But this year, as my social media presence grew, and I was exposed to so many great books at work, things got out of control. I felt something needed to be done, and finally going through my TBR and ARCs rather than adding up to it was the way to go. So I went.

My plan was to stop buying books for the whole of 2021 and then treat myself as soon as my birthday rolled in next year, on the 5th of January. It was going really well. For one, my bank account really appreciated the care. 

Then, last month, I broke the ban. And I don’t feel one bit of regret.

In August, after months of trying to find another part time job that I could add to the few days working at the bookstore, I finally found something. I was now finally putting some money in my savings rather than taking from them, and after a bit of introspection I also became a bit more relaxed in relation to my work at the bookstore, regarding the books I (thought I) should be reading. 

To reiterate, I want to read for fun and I want to continue to cherish the job I have: you can still be of service in a bookstore while reading what you enjoy and like. So I saw my job in a new perspective, and suddenly the TBR became less daunting.

On an extremely busy week where I worked a lot of extra hours, I decided to treat myself. And while I considered if it was worth breaking the ban that I had kept for so long, I also realised that a book buying ban (or any compromise you make with yourself) should work for you, and not the other way around. I define my challenges and when to put a stop to them. If they aren’t of service anymore, if in this specific situation I can spare the money and treat myself, I will. I did.

Curiously enough, I didn’t feel the need to immediately dive into those books I first bought; I placed them on my TBR, and I did not chastise myself for creating a pile. I was – still am – glad at all the possibilities in front of me. I will get to those books. Or I won’t, but they are there for me, waiting and ready. And I define how they make me feel.

So if you needed a sign to break your book buying ban, to give up on your reading challenge for the year, or just someone to tell you “been there, done that, you’re doing great!”, this is it.

Now go and enjoy your reading, and if you end up buried under a pile of books you didn’t read, what a fantastic way to go!


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