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Why Buy?

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Question:I’ve asked, in the past, about whether you more often buy your books, or get them from libraries. What I want to know today, is, WHY BUY?

Even if you are a die-hard fan of the public library system, I’m betting you have at least ONE permanent resident of your bookshelves in your house. I’m betting that no real book-lover can go through life without owning at least one book. So … why that one? What made you buy the books that you actually own, even though your usual preference is to borrow and return them?

If you usually buy your books, tell me why. Why buy instead of borrow? Why shell out your hard-earned dollars for something you could get for free?

I buy books so I can have them. The physical allure of books mesmerizes me: the smell, the uneven cut of pages, the hand-knit binding, the carefully chosen fonts, the varying translation of foreign literature. I like the idea of owning books. The staidness of the sight of books sitting pristinely on the shelves. I confess my being vain in showing off pendantry with a full display on books at home. That I have read most of my collection has at least justified my effrontery! As to the question of buying and loaning, it’s a matter of consciousness and preference. The bookshelves definitely behold my predilection for literature and historical fiction, and more importantly, they reflect the history of my reading over the years. Books I have read and re-read are likely to exist in duplicate copies. The glass-in cases of the shelves testify the vicissitude of different incarnations of books like The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov and The Name of the Rose, Umberto Eco’s best. The increase in ARCs read doesn’t alter the make-up of the collection. On more than one occasion I have purchased the books after I enjoyed the ARCs tremendously. To name a couple Finding Nouf by Zoe Ferraris and The Future of Love by Shirley Abbott.

Books outside of my favorite genres and authors I would either check out from the library or to buy used. The library doesn’t guarantee availability of the new releases. Usually books have long queue before they are ready to be circulated at the branches. I maintain a paging list for books that are of lower priority. Why shell out the money for something I can get for free? It’s because books are my passion in life. I rather spend money on books than luxurious items and gadgets. Not owning a favorite book is like the sense of loss after the end of a choreography—you can only savor the grace of movements in the ever fading reminiscence. At least words are written down and palpable. There are also books, ones that aren’t popular with critics or sales, that probably will go out-of-print after the first or second printing. I want like to do my share to preserve good literature.

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30 Responses

  1. Lovely answer.

    I do use the library and I do try to keep the number of books in this house down to a reasonable level (800 cookbooks is reasonable, isn’t it?), but I agree that favorite books must be at the ready at all times. And I, too, like the chronology of my books and the memories that are evoked by simply looking at the spines. Childhood books are especially dear.

    Why we own books is personal — no apologies necessary. I’m a fence-sitter or (as someone else wrote) conflicted when it comes to this topic.

  2. I don’t keep as many as I used to. In South Florida waaay long ago, I didn’t have air conditioning, and my books got moldy. Ewww. I chucked them out, and since then I’ve not kept so many; even though I now have air. So I use the library and buy. Here’s my answer.
    http://bookcritiques.blogspot.com/2008/11/booking-through-thursday.html

  3. Beautiful post Matt! I was in such a rush to get mine done tonite, but afer reading your eloquent answer, I want a do-over!! lol Seriously, I agree with how you feel about the books. I love looking at them on my shelves afer i’ve read them. I love having people see my books. I love the smell . . . all of it! Some people collect ceramic dolls – I collect books!!

  4. I like the idea of one’s library being somewhat of an indication of who one is – so the idea of a personal library resonates with me.
    I’m also somewhat vain too – the knowledge that my library will impress visitors and with the fact that I’ve read most of all those books. Whenever I go to people’s houses the first thing I usually do is check out their library. I can’t help it. It’s almost innate!

  5. Great answer, Matt! I used to visit the libraries but have stopped doing so for two reasons: I want to read at my own pace with my tighter schedules nowadays and some books are so hard to find (I guess I’m too impatient, hehe).

    “…they reflect the history of my reading over the years.” This is so true! 🙂

  6. I am so with you. I love just having the books. You should see my house- we bought it just for the built-in bookshelves. Oy! Besides, with my huge TBR pile who knows when I’ll get around to anything in particular- I think right now I’m building my own library! 🙂

  7. You said it! I love the smell of books and there is no better smell than MY book. 🙂 Unless you already have, you should post a picture of your bookshelves. I would love to see them.

    BTW, I loved Finding Nouf, too. It was an excellent novel and one I’m pretty sure I’ll be re-reading someday. Nayir was such a wonderful character.

  8. “The physical allure of books mesmerizes me: the smell, the uneven cut of pages, the hand-knit binding, the carefully chosen fonts, the varying translation of foreign literature. I like the idea of owning books.”

    You said it all!

    Must buy!

  9. I agree with you completely – it’s the physical allure!

  10. You said it! And, I’m with you, I’m a bit vain about my books and love to show off my crowded bookshelves to anyone who visits me 🙂

  11. “Not owning a favorite book is like the sense of loss after the end of a choreography—you can only savor the grace of movements in the ever fading reminiscence.”

    Very nice analogy ~ there are definitely books one must own, to be able to savor again and again.

  12. I have fewer books than I did in the past. I’ve moved so much that I have learned to live with less.

    It hurts to sell my books, but I think of it as a chance for others to enjoy them at a lower price.

    I go to the library often, but I still hit the bookstores a bit. I keep a small collection.

    I like your essay.

  13. Beth F:
    Eight hundred cookbooks are very impressive. Now how do you shelf them and where are they?

  14. Sally:
    I remembered my parents’ books going moldy when we lived in Hong Kong. Then they knew better to shelf them in an A/C room. I cover most of my books to protect them from dust and damage. 🙂

  15. Lisa:
    Books make great decor in the house, don’t they? 🙂

  16. Mae:
    Oh gosh, yes, I can’t help to snoop at what people’s got on their bookshelves, well, if they have any! It’s very instinctive of me. Books reflect on our intellectual journey and how we come to be resolved in ideas and values of life. I love looking at my ever growing collection and can’t help smiling. 🙂

  17. Melody:
    Library is great resource but also because books are free, that means they are not books in the same sense as books to me. Also I cannot decide what books to read and end up checking out too many a book that I don’t read.

  18. marie: I’m glad to hear you’re building your own library. I certainly can use more shelf space in my city apartment. I have to chuck out books every once in a while to accommodate for the new ones. This is a work in progress that I know can be shared by all book lovers! 🙂

  19. Jennifer:
    Books smell better than perfume or cologne! 🙂

  20. gautami:
    Books are always like art pieces that reflect personal taste and mark an intellectual journey. I love books. 🙂

  21. tuesday:
    I have left out one thing. The physical allure of book also includes the sound. But this is only possible when book interacts with a reader. I love the sound of the turning pages! 🙂

  22. Iliana:
    I make sure everyone sees my book collection before they dig in the food on the dinner table! 🙂

  23. Becca:
    I think about fifty years from now what books that we read now will still be around. At least I’m doing my share to preserve them. 🙂

  24. Isabel:
    On the note of parting with books, thank you again for the wonderful gift you made of the Russian photography. It’s a very nice addition to the Russian collection.

    I wish I can say about a small collection when I’m running out of space. But oh well… 🙂

  25. I must say, I like your answer much better than mine!

  26. I meant to add that I like to display the books I’ve read too. I was interrupted by a kitten who forgot she isn’t supposed to walk across my keyboard. I love it when guests peruse my shelves and comment on a title or ask me about a book.

  27. Wendy:
    What a cute kitten! New newly adopted kitty loves to sit on the scanner/printer. Huh…I love it when my friends pursue and then peruse my book collection.

  28. Matt – I love your description of the physical presence of books – it is SO spot on!

    When people come to my house the first time, they always ask “Have you really read all of these?!?!” I HAVE read 90% of what is on my shelves.

    Do you get that question a lot too?

  29. Shana:
    Shana, I get that question every once in a while, especially when I have new guests over for dinner. They would have this “oh-my-god” look on the face after I affirm them that I have read most of the books on the shelf. 🙂

  30. I can read stuff on a computer screen, but I’m unable to properly ‘dream the dream’ unless I’m leafing through real pages. I suspect that a lot of it is simply because I learned how to read before computers came along; but until recently (with the advent of computer tablets) it simply wasn’t really possible to read while sat comfortably in a chair by the fire…

    PS FYI typo up there on the word ‘pendantry‘ (which is what brought me here :)). At least, I think it’s a typo — perhaps you are really a pendant? 😉

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