How I (Mostly) Stopped Buying Books and Became a Better Reader
I am and always have been the sort of person who loves buying books and being surrounded by them at home. Despite the topic of this post, my home is still full of books, though I no longer have to dodge piles of them lest I accidentally stab myself with a corner of a hardback. It’s just much more controlled now, and frankly, much more aesthetically pleasing because I can place the odd ornament or photo frame in the spaces between books. And if that’s so wrong, I just don’t want to be right.
When I first drastically reduced the amount of books I purchased, it was for an obvious reason—I didn’t have the space for them. I lived in a tiny studio apartment and I couldn’t buy much of anything outside of consumables and maybe a few articles of clothing whenever the season changed. This completely new, almost minimalist life situation I maintained for two years before upgrading to a more spacious one bedroom place came at a great time for me to really examine my reading habits and make some hard decisions.
Before, I’d been the sort of reader who wanted to hit that book goal each year. I read new releases, backlog that I’d missed, and I especially loved reading proofs because I got (and still get) a thrill out of reading material pre-publication. Something about being able to talk up a book before it comes out and spreading some love and joy about new releases just makes me happy. I digress.
I didn’t really think twice about spending money on new releases and book sales both in print and digital. Once I moved and had limited space, I became more of a digital reader. When I became a teacher I became more of a “whatever’s on sale” reader. And then I (re)discovered the library. That place I had been neglecting because I lived in a small town in a foreign country and didn’t think they’d bother stocking books in languages I could read with ease. Except they did, and their selection was great.
From then on, I became the kind of patron who takes armfuls out of the library at a time. There was no pressure. I didn’t pay for it, so I don’t have to feel obligated to finish (or even begin reading, in some cases) a book that looked great on the shelf at the time. I mean, I now don’t think anyone’s obligated to finish a book, but I’m recovering. By letting go of the financial obligation and also being suddenly anti-clutter (tight spaces will do that), my apartment became a revolving door of new-to-me and exciting reads I probably wouldn’t have gotten to otherwise.
After moving to a more spacious place and recuperating much of my collection, it’s easy to maintain the new habits I’ve formed. I’m only buying new books I’m really, really excited about or by authors I’m going to meet. I’m also slowly but surely weeding my collection of books I’ll never open up again, by selling or giving away as much as I can bear to part with.
I’m not trying to be minimalist and get rid of all my books. I like being surrounded by books, as I said before. And I’m not getting rid of any of my shelves or anything. I’m just more conscious of the noise. Of the clutter, and how it messes with my day. And the weird need to read so many books has changed meaning for me over the last few years, too. I still want to read lots and lots of books, but I keep count for different reasons.
I still shop the occasional sale. I still read in print, digital, and on audio. I practically live in the library and have one shelf (and only one, because otherwise I run into problems with due dates) dedicated to books which I’ve borrowed. Naturally, it’s always at capacity. But the bottom line is, my reading life is still just as busy as it was before, but now made richer by the increased variety, by accepting that I can’t and won’t read all of the books, by having access to such a great selection at a city library now that I’m back home, and by maintaining a clutter-free home.
Your mileage may vary, but being forced to drop book pickiness and tighten my book budget has made me a much happier reader.