Riot Headline The Best Hardcover and Paperback Deals of the Amazon Book Sale (UPDATED May 17, 2024)
Our Reading Lives

Hi, I’m a Book Addict

James Wallace Harris

Staff Writer

James Wallace Harris is a retired computer guy. Jim dreamed of writing science fiction in his social security years, but discovered he loved writing essays more. Life is short and novels are long. He’s written over a thousand essays for his blog Auxiliary Memory. Jim wrote about science fiction for SF Signal before it folded, and now for Worlds Without End. BookRiot gives him the opportunity to write about all the other kinds of books he loves. Finally, he has all the time in the world to read and write, but he never forgets poor Henry Bemis. (Who also found time enough at last, until an evil Twilight Zone fate took it all away.) Twitter: @JimHarris28

I’m going to make a distinction that might not be universally accepted. A bookworm is a person who compulsively reads books. A book addict is a person who compulsively buys books. I’m both by the way. At the moment I don’t consider being a bookworm a problem. On the other hand, at the end of 2016 when Audible sent me an email thanking me for buying 177 audiobooks, I realized I did have a problem. Clicking over to Amazon to look at my “Manage Your Content and Devices” page, I discovered I had purchased 200+ print and digital books in 2016. Whoa! Then I did some back-of-the-envelope figuring about my local used book buying. All told I bought around 550 books in 2016. Ten books for every one I read!

I read 54 books last year. I’m quite steady in my reading habits. I know because I’ve been keeping a log since 1983. I average a book a week. Looking at Social Security’s Life Expectancy Calculator, their best guess suggests I’ll live another 20 years. That means I need about 1,000 books to finish out my life. The books I bought in 2016 will cover half that. I have enough books stockpiled to last me until I’m 115. Thirty years past my due date. To complicate my calculations, I’m reading mostly newer books that come out during the year. I have enough old books to keep me reading until the 22nd century.

See my problem. When I paid my Visa bill this morning, I saw one long list of $2.19 charges to Amazon. I can’t resist those $1.99 Kindle specials. I’ve bought 36 of them in the last 18 days. Oh boy, need to rethink my book buying habit. The day before yesterday I unsubscribed to five daily ebook bargain newsletters. But yesterday I re-subscribed when I realized I would have missed by Time for the Stars by Robert Heinlein, a favorite SF novel from my childhood. That reminded me of the 1970s when I was trying to give up smoking dope. I’d flush my weed down the toilet at 2 am and go buy more by 2 pm. Eventually, I learned to break a negative habit by taking up a positive habit. Jogging did the trick. What constructive habit would make me forget book buying? Could fanatically tracking books on Goodreads replace my urge to buy books?

Most of us want too much. We want to be rich, beautiful, brilliant and traveled. In reality, we spend more than we earn, eat more than is healthy, play more than we study, and never have enough time to travel. I hunger to read all the buzz-worthy books, but I never feel the impossibility of that goal. There’s a wonderful adage about overeating – “Your eyes are bigger than your stomach.” My friends should remind me every day, “Your library is larger than your life.”

If I was a book collector it might be different. But I’m not. I buy books believing I’ll read them. I give books away when finished.  I’ve always bought more books than I read, but in recent years it’s gotten much worse. Book collecting is a very different compulsion than compulsive book buying. Contemplating that distinction for several days I realized I bought books as a way to remember what I want to read. That’s something I could do with Goodreads, but I can’t retain that insight. Psychological I buy books feeling certain I’ll read them, but it’s obvious I won’t. Knowing that doesn’t stop me from buying books.

I have other irrational insights. I bought 180 Kindle books last year but only read 2. I did read 15 library books last year. I should trust that trend instead. I hoard books like a squirrel putting away nuts. Yet, I know I won’t use most of my hoard. I am a nut. What explains my madness?

I do have one rationalization I cherish. I love buying ebook editions of all the books I loved reading over my lifetime but I don’t own. Some I want to reread, use others for reference, and for easy cut-and-pasting a quote when blogging. Also, I’ve been collecting ebook editions of all the titles on the Classics of Science Fiction and Modern Library’s Best 100 Novels lists. I tell myself that’s a legitimate form of collecting, and not part of my addiction. (I might be my own unreliable narrator.)

If I was a highly disciplined person, and of course this is a hypothetical fantasy, I’d wouldn’t buy another book until I finished reading my TBR pile. I could be more realistic, and make a rule I can’t buy a book until I’m ready to read it. That’s very logical, but it won’t happen, even when I explain to myself that paying full-price for hardback books I’ll actually read would be much cheaper than collecting $1.99 bargains I don’t.

If I wasn’t tempted by $1.99 Kindle deals, or $2.95 Audible deals, I don’t think I’d buy so many books. My library makes things worse by having a wonderful bookstore selling used books at bargain prices. Also, will get me most anything for $4. Like cheap heroin flooding the country, cheap books is turning bookworms into book addicts. Are there larger social ramifications to this trend? How many other book junkies are like me, buying books, but not reading them? What are cheap books doing to America?