Where do you find the books you read? No, wait. Before we get to that, I want to know if you make a distinction between the books you want to own, and the ones you merely want to read.
As a bibliophile I have a problem with this last. As noted in this space before, I have a serious shelf space problem in my house and offices – despite a large number of bookcases, both built-in and stand-alone.
There was a time in my life when I bought books with alarming abandon, and unfortunately it wasn’t just me. Not long after we were married, my new husband and I entered into a solemn pact, born of necessity. Henceforward, we would no longer be allowed to go into book stores, either together or separately. In fact I can’t remember when this proscription was not in effect, and long after the necessity of it passed, I still think twice before crossing the threshold of a book store!
In retrospect, it’s hard to believe that we exercised such discipline in this particular sphere, since discipline was not exactly our strong-suit in most other areas of our hippy lifestyle. But this had escalated – in a very brief period of time – into a financial crisis, requiring dire measures.
You see, we were impoverished college students on a tight budget, each with jobs on the side, and – at least in my case – two majors! But we had both descended from educators and avid readers. His father had an entire room at home dedicated to books (in addition to an academic office on campus), as did mine. And my mother once went to war with a contractor who didn’t want to install bookshelves in the house she was designing because “nobody has books anymore”. For the record, she won.
On reflection, what was probably behind this serious book-buying binge was my craving for knowledge and – concomitantly – the penchant for filling the books I read with margin notes, highlighted passages, and sticky page markers. I do write a fair number of book reviews, columns, and research papers which require appropriate documentation, so it just makes life easier if the original reference is handy.
Fortunately, I have overcome this obsession. Well, I’ve improved. Okay, just last week I had to go to the library and confess that I had become so involved with the book I was reading that I had highlighted huge swaths of it with a yellow highlighter and filled the pages with sticky page markers. And – you guessed it – it was a brand new library book! I immediately offered to buy the book, and nobody snickered at me. At least not to my face. But as I slunk out of the library I couldn’t help remembering that I was the one who had recommended that the library buy this book in the first place!
So I do find myself constantly weighing my desire to simply read a book against the desire to own it! I have even read a book on Kindle (at least two to date) and then gone right out and bought a hard copy so I could mark it up – which involved reading the whole thing all over again, of course.
I personally find books in quite a wide array of places: There is the library of course, and Amazon. Friend recommendations rank high with me, but Best Seller lists are real turnoffs. (Why on earth would I care what the masses are reading?)
But more and more I find myself relying on Book TV, NPR Books (which actually sends me recommendations), History News Network, historytoday.com, history magazines and historical society reviews.
I do credit Kindle with at least tamping my book-buying habits. But it’s hard to compete with the tactile experience of actually holding a book, turning its pages, and noting how far the bookmark has moved – a highly satisfying measure of accomplishment which is notably lacking on Kindle.