I while ago, I wrote a post about the irrational and insatiable urge to own printed books (see Beloved books). My conclusion was that even though I know there are a number of convincing arguments against buying lots of books, I still do, because at that time, I thought that the perceived advantages simply trumped the disadvantages. Since then, I’ve changed my way of thinking a bit, and as a result of this, I will consciously avoid buying news books in the future. In this post, I’ll explain why I’ve changed my mind.
Before I go through the various exceptions to this seemingly harsh rule of not buying new books, I’m going to talk briefly about the rationale behind the decision. Buying books is simply a waste, and it comes with very few genuine advantages. It wastes money, paper, the environment and so on. It makes it harder to move house, and even though I still think a huge number of accumulated books is very nice to look at, I don’t think that there are enough arguments to keep on adding to the pile.
Two of the advantages with printed books that I pointed out in the original post are that they are nice to look at and that they constitute a good way of presenting myself as a person. However, I think that neither of these will suffer I stop buying books as before. I own around 800 books and, living in a small apartment as I will most likely do, that’s more than enough to get the living-in-a-library feeling. Buying fewer books and getting rid old, bad ones should further enhance the representational value of a book collection, not decrease it!
Naturally, there are a few exceptions when I will buy books anyway. If any of these applies, I will try to buy the book second hand. If that also fails, I will consider buying it new, but as you can see, that will be very rare indeed.
1. I can’t borrow the book, either from a library or friends
2. I want to keep the book for reference (seldom fiction)
3. I need to take detailed notes in the book
4. The book is so good I want to be able to lend it to friends
As you can see, this will almost entirely eliminate the number of new books I plan to buy. In fact, my goal will be to not buy any new books at all, as long as I’m not forced to for some reason (such as text books and course material).
What about electronic books?
The observant reader will have noticed that I haven’t mentioned what seems to be all the rage now: electronic books. I have tried to read books on screen and even if I this is occasionally okay, I don’t own a device which is portable enough to be convenient and which, at the same time, offers a screen good enough for comfortable reading. However, this is an option that I will try to explore more, because I feel that that’s really the only rational direction to go, although I don’t feel any need to run. The future belongs to the e-books, no doubt about it.
What do you think about e-books? Have you stopped buying printed books altogether or do you feel a shiver down your spine every time you think about reading something on a screen?
Books I already own
What about the books I already own? A rough estimate tells me that at the moment, I own around 800 books. A large number of these books are books that if I didn’t own them, they would never fulfill any of the above criteria to bought new. However, most of them I have bought used and very cheaply (or even received as gifts), so they weigh more in terms of kilograms than imagined weight on my conscience.
Still, I plan to go through the books I have and get rid of the books that I neither have read nor want to read. I don’t know how I will do this yet, but I will try to sell them somehow. If that doesn’t work, perhaps I can swap them or simply donate them to charity. In any case, I don’t plan to move all my books with me next time I move house, which might be sooner rather than later. Trimming my book collection will be a gradual and painful process.
In any case, I still love books, both reading them and owning them, but I feel that I can no longer continue wasting money and resources buying things I could find used or in electronic format. Yes, I do like to live in a library, but I already have enough books to do that. If I really need more books later, the second hand market on the internet is quite extensive. So, no more new books from now on, if it can be avoided!