I don’t buy a lot of books. Don’t get me wrong—I love books and I have way more of them on my shelves than I know what to do with. But when I hear about a book I want to read, my first reaction is not to buy it. I put it on one of my many TBR lists, and eventually, I check it out from the library.
Though I’ve collected many books throughout my life, I realized recently that, for the most part, I’ve always been this way. I’ve been dabbling in bookstagram a bit over the past year, and I’ve noticed that toward the end of the month, a lot of bookstagramers like to post wrap-up pictures of the books they finished. And I’m like, “Hey! You guys! How are you doing this? I didn’t read a single book I owned this month!”
So I started thinking: what does it take to get me to actually buy a book? It turns out there are five reasons I buy books. Here they are:
1. It’s a book I’ve already read and loved.
This is the #1 reason I buy books.
Even if I’m 90% sure I’m going to love a book, it’s almost unheard of for me to buy it before reading it (see reasons 2–5 for the exceptions to this rule). To justify buying it, I have to know I’m going to want to reference it and/or reread it. If returning a book to the library makes me feel bereft and weepy, I know that’s a book I’ll end up buying. These books are the ones that I need to have around, so I can pick them up and run my fingers along their spines and just…smile at them, from time to time.
2. It’s a new book by an author I adore.
I have to really love an author in order to buy their new book without reading it, but it does happen. There are a few authors who’ve earned a permanent buy-every-new-book-they-ever-write status: Lois Bujold and Ta-Nehisi Coates are the two that come to mind immediately.
This doesn’t go for every author I’ve ever loved, however. I enjoy John Irving immensely, but I don’t rush out and buy the hardback every time he writes a new book. I haven’t read (or loved) everything he’s already written, and he’s a famous white man who’s doing just fine. I’m much more likely to buy new books by women and authors of color. For example: I will buy every book Yaa Gyasi ever decides to write on the day it comes out.
3. I get it in a book subscription box.
Having a package of books and treats arrive on my doorstep is one of the loveliest things ever. In search of perfection, I’ve sampled boxes from a whole bunch of book subscriptions over the past two years: Book of the Month, My Lit Box, Owl Crate, Noir Reads, Muse Monthly, and Call Number. If I had an unlimited budget, book boxes would probably be my undoing, because I would recommend all of these. Since I don’t, I limit myself to one book box subscription per year. I end up reading a lot of current (and sometimes buzzy) books this way, and in a rare twist (for me), I don’t wait six months to get them from the library.
4. It’s a book I want to read, I CANNOT get it from the library, and the ebook costs less than $7.
It pains me to say it, but occasionally there are books that my three library networks (plus Massachusetts’s awesome statewide network of library networks) simply do not have. For me, these end up being almost exclusively romance, comics, older/lesser-known science fiction and fantasy, and literary fiction and poetry in translation.
Since I don’t know whether I’ll love these books or not, I don’t buy them unless they’re cheap, and I only buy the ebooks, since I’d rather clutter up my electronic shelves and not my wooden ones. If there’s no cheap digital version, the book hangs out on my TBR. Sometimes it magically appears in the library months later. Occasionally I splurge and buy the ebook anyway—but only after reading and loving the sample.
5. The library book sale.
I am not made of stone. My library hosts two used book sales each year, and I am there, the moment they open, with empty boxes. I buy books I’ve never heard of because I like the covers and books I’d like to read but know I probably never will. I buy recklessly and happily, rules be damned. If it looks vaguely interesting, I snatch it up. After all, paperbacks are $1, hardbacks are $2, and if I haven’t read any of them in a year, I can just bring them back to the library…