So, it’s been, what, just over two and a half weeks, so I thought I’d do an update on how it’s been going, not buying books.
Until the last few days, it’s not actually been too hard. There was a lot of laughter in the office, when the catalogue for the David Hockney exhibition arrived on my desk on Ash Wednesday – but I had ordered that before Lent, and I wasn’t too concerned. It was a wee bit sneaky, but I had always planned to buy it, so it didn’t feel like a spur of the moment splurge. And between then and Friday there’s not been a huge amount of temptation.
(1) I’ve learned that bookshops are somewhere where I’m possibly ludicrously comfortable. I sort of know that, but the possibly ludicrous nature of it really comes home to you when you’re hanging out browsing in Foyles, because a bookshop is a comfortable space and that’s what you *do* when you’re on the Southbank of an evening, even though you know you can’t buy anything. The fact that doing that is a tiny bit masochistic makes you realise that the rest of the time it’s something of an addictive behaviour. I’m not sure what I’m going to do with this awareness, yet – as I don’t see anything wrong with loving books, I’d just like it to be a bit healthier than it seems to be right now. One does not need to spend time in bookshops eyeing up copies of Andrei Makine novels one already owns, even when one is waiting in a warm dry space for someone to come and meet you for a drink or dinner.
(2) I’ve not, actually become aware of new books being published that I just really want to buy, right now. I’ve become aware that there’s a new Nadine Gordimer coming out this week – but I’m coping with that ok, I’d normally wait for her paperbacks anyway, and just see it in shops every so often and think, ‘get that later…’ There’s a new Michael Chabon novel coming out, but in September, and a last, post-humous collection of David Foster Wallace’s so far uncollected essays planned for November. Both of those are wants – but I have to wait, and for all the hyperventilating must-have-now rhetoric I’ll use about them between now and then, that’s not actually a problem for me. The fact that I’ve just discovered that there are two new Andrei Makine novels out in French, not to mention the four he’s written under the pseudonym ‘Gabriel Osmonde’, is more frustrating to me, as I can’t read French very well (and he is the one author who makes me wish I could – the English translations of his books are like verbal music, so I can’t even imagine the original…).
(3) I’m clearly thinking about books and the fact that I’m not buying books a lot. This is sort-of a good thing, as it’s better than buying books and not thinking about it a lot. But it does also show that they may be more central my life than perhaps they should be. New books ought to be a really really nice bonus that I do love and appreciate a lot – but not being able to buy new books shouldn’t be such a big set of thoughts in my brain. I almost want to be able to own the new Andrei Makine novels, and not just borrow them from a library and read them – and that’s the problem, isn’t it? When wanting to buy books is not about the joy of reading, and the knowledge and insight that can come from it, but about the high of owning them and savouring that ownership.
(4) I am actually getting a book this week – and, technically, in the financial sense, I bought it this week. It’s Jonathan Lethem’s collection of essays, The Ecstasy of Influence (the title essay is one of my all-time favourite essay, FYI). I preordered it on Amazon on Boxing Day, theoretically with Christmas money. I knew I had it on pre-order at the start of Lent, but I didn’t really think about it. Of course – Amazon doesn’t take money until they pack the book to send it to you, so I have actually bought a book in Lent. I’m justifying this by saying that my Lent is about controlling the bit between my brain and the order point – so it’s ok (but preordering, say, Michael Chabon’s next novel wouldn’t be). I’m aware this is a justification – and also that I chose not to cancel the pre-order. I have a smattering of guilt about this. Clearly not enough to make me cancel th order, but enough to make excuses for it.
(5) This weekend there have suddenly been two books I really wanted to buy – and couldn’t, and have ”missed out on’ because they were on limited-time offers – and this really made me realise how easily I normally just buy books. You know how Amazon does Kindle deals of the day – for one day only, this book is really cheap… Well, on Friday this book was Stephen Saylor’s Roma. I like Stephen Saylor’s novels: his Roman historical fiction is about the only Roman historical fiction that doesn’t make me want to spit (his book Catilina’s Riddle really gets the uncertainty and ambivalence about what Catiline was up to, and I love it for that). I’ve wanted to read Roma for a while, but never picked it up. Then suddenly it was 99p and my finger automatically flew to the link on the twitter update. Amazingly I paused before hitting the link. I didn’t buy it. I ranted a lot on twitter about the fact that I couldn’t. If you could gift kindle books I would absolutely have let the lovely @Blonde_M buy it for me, as gifts are allowed (spending a giift voucher wouldn’t be).
Today, the complete Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is available for Kindle for £2.19. I already own all of Douglas Adams – but I’d happily pay a couple of quid for portable Hitchhikers, because you should absolutely have that kind of joy with you wherever you go, right? (danger, warning lights flashing etc). Not buying this is also pretty hard, and I’ve been moved to wonder whether or not I’m doing what I’ve referred to as ‘High-Anglican Lent’ (the 40 days doesn’t include Sundays, so some people argue you can take Sundays off) and therefore buy it. I’ve decided I’m not – partly because that wasn’t in ‘the rules’, but also because giving up books during the week and buying them all on Sunday really is a cheat. (It feels like going on facebook on Sundays when you’ve given it up for Lent, as some friends of mine are doing, is less cheaty, because they’re trying to focus on using facebook for communication and cut back on the time-wasting browsing side of it).
So, I’ve ‘missed out’ on two good deals – and the fact that I’m referring to it as ‘missing out’ says a lot about how I buy books: on spec, on special offer, on the spur of the moment. Pretty uncontrollably, and basically, I have a habit that I feel like I have to make excuses for, and I need to work out what I want to do about that. Right now, I’m still in a bit of denial – clearly I’m never going to not buy books. But at the same time I want to work out a system (yes, I’m that kind of person) for getting a handle on it. HELP.