As a former girl who could read all afternoon, a former English teacher, and lover of physical books, the kind made of paper and cloth that you hold in your hand, I have bought and boxed and moved and arranged the same set of books for two decades.
The Pledge to Quit Buying Books
90% of these books are what I would call the “permanent collection,” meaning that though I might trim around the edges, these books are here to stay. The American and world literature classics, the copy of every Shakespeare play, the religious and historical texts, the gardening and homesteading resources, the economics and politics section, and the illogical stack of sixteen copies of To Kill a Mockingbird, all of these are permanent. I’ve come to terms with it. Also here, books I won’t read again but want nearby. Salvage the Bones. Circe. Between the World and Me. The Fifth Season. Hunger.
But the obsession to hold and touch and POSSESS books has resulted in a money-wasting and space-wasting situation where I have a whole host of temporary books.
I buy them on a whim, read them (or not) and then donate them, all within a year.
These are the utterly current memoirs by celebrities and comediennes, the titles I walk by at Costco and throw in the cart, the sixth book in that YA series I love, the social history and nonfiction books I pick up and find interesting but not keepable, even the modern novels that are powerful and sweeping. These are the ones that I don’t need, that I make stacks and stacks of to donate to goodwill or teenagers or friends.
These are the books that, today, I pledge to quit buying. I hereby quit buying books. All the books I have must fit onto these five shelves in the entry room. This is it.
Why the Library Helped Us Quit Buying Books
What I’ve discovered instead is the library.
This may not be a revelation to you but it was to me so here I go, perhaps stating the obvious: the library is great.
In New Orleans, the library has not always been great, which is why, now that I hang with a small person who possesses an insatiable thirst for books, I have recently discovered it. And let me tell you, it is a place for everyone.
• There is an app for your phone for our New Orleans Library where you can ORDER books you want AND HAVE THEM DELIVERED to your branch. And then they send you an alert when your books have arrived. Every time I think of a book I want, I simply go to the app and put it on my list. This means that I end up getting EVEN MORE of the books I really want.
• Because I can’t keep these books indefinitely, my time reading has gone way up since we started visiting the library.
• Instead of buying books, sitting them on the shelf and buying more, I am now refraining from checking out new books until I’ve read the ones I have. I can feel the itch to buy new books, but the library has helped me see that my desire to buy books is more frequent than my ability to read them. Restraint, mama, show some restraint!
• We can pick out 6 DVDs a week and they are organized alphabetically with easy-to-see single letters on the spine. My four-year-old spends 20 minutes selecting her 6 DVDs and then 20 minutes independently re-shelving the 100 movies she’s taken down. The librarians enjoy this whole production.
• The phone app has a function where you can download books on tape. Hundreds and hundreds of books on tape. Why would we even keep our audible accounts?
•They give you a pink bag to keep all your books in if you sign up for their summer reading program. The pink bag helps us keep track of all of our books, and we have a 6x6x6 rule in our house– mom gets 6, the girl gets 6, and she can have 6 DVDs. Then we always know how many have to go back.
• The woman who orders the recent selections is an incredible feminist. I don’t know her, but here is the last week of the “Most Recent” shelf. Lorrie Moore, The Female Persuasion, Tough Mothers, Don’t Call Me Princess, a history of “out African-American Lesbian Media Making” and orgasms. What a selection!
I’ve been so pleased about the selection and responsiveness from our library, and I can’t wait each week to visit and get new books.
I have yet to finish all six that I bring home each week, but the pleasure of bringing books home and thumbing through them somehow acts as a decent substitute for my compulsive book-buying.
If it’s not destined for permanent status, it’s not getting purchased. Let’s see if I can go a year with no new books! Who wants to join me?
UPDATE: After a year, we are still committed to not buying books. Read our annual review to find out how we used the supplies below to make our library habit even more effective!