Bedevilled books

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.

But why?

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!

Some exceptions

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!

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  1. Xhakhal’s avatar

    I want, sometime, to get an e-book reader (and put it in a moleskine kindle cover – http://www.moleskine.com/about_us/news/kindle_cover_a_new_analog-digital_hybrid_tool.php – that speaks to me. Loudly. Just look at it, it says it wants to belong to me and I don’t even own a kindle). I want to read e-books. Paper books feel nice, and I wouldn’t trade paper for the world (as you’ve seen – I’ve got photoshop and I still spend more money on art supplies than on clothes and many other necessities) but paper books hold no special place in my heart. Not when the same content is available digitally.

    As we both know I’m also an audiophile and listen to audio books a lot (at least when I have a working pair of headphones), but that is for purely practical reasons. The reason I want to read e-books is because some books are better when read (Flowers for Algernon etc) and some books aren’t available in audio. Making (and buying…) an e-book is much cheaper, and so it would widen the range of literature available to me pretty much.

    I tried reading some books on my phone though, but the screen was too small for it to be practical. So no luck there :(

    My reasons for not wanting to buy physical books are then roughly the same as yours (though I don’t share your reasons for wanting physical books, I want to live in an art studio rather than a library and then go for tea and scones in Svante and your libraries ;)), but with the addition that I probably wouldn’t buy any physical books whatsoever if I had an e-book reader. I don’t -want- to buy physical books, at all – with the possible exception of friends’ art books and the likes, but that has more to do with wanting to support the art community and looking at the pretty pictures than any love for physical books.

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    1. Olle Linge’s avatar

      I think that perhaps the transition to e-books would be a lot quicker if I actually could try a kindle (or similar) without having to buy one. The fact is that I’ve never even seen one in real life, much less read a book on one! Since I’m so convinced that e-books is the only reasonable way to go, I should perhaps make more of an effort to explore the possibilities (the picture you linked to is quite nice).

      One reason I haven’t done this is that I feel that this industry is in its infancy. This is the first generation of e-readers and I suspect that there will be huge improvements in design over the coming years. The price will also drop considerably. This is what I meant when I said that I feel no urge to hurry, I might as well take it easy and wait until the market has matured a little bit. I do have enough paper books left to keep me occupied for a couple of years anyway.

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      1. Xhakhal’s avatar

        Yes, I am awaiting the blooming of this industry with great anticipation, almost but not entirely rivalled by impatience.

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        1. Olle Linge’s avatar

          Me, too. I think. I just finished reading Palimpsest by Catherynne M. Valente on my electronic dictionary. The screen is too small and the battery life so short that it’s a big problem, but I still think I can get used to reading books like that. Perhaps I should investigate.

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          1. Xhakhal’s avatar

            One big drawback with reading on computers and similar screens for people with sensitive eyes is the backlight. E-book readers have less/none of that (that ‘electronic ink’ business yanno?) and although I still want to try one out for myself before I say it is DEFINITELY BETTER than staring into a bright screen for a long time… if it is even the slightest bit better, I approve big time. *gnuggar sig i ögat*

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            1. Olle Linge’s avatar

              I actually find the notion of sitting in front of the computer more deterring than the actual back light. I sit down most of the time anyway and I don’t want to sit down when I’m reading as well (I almost always lie down, either on a sofa or bed).

              However, I think that screens have improved and will improve a lot more in the near future (I’m talking of e-reader screens here, although other screens will of course also improve).

              One thing I don’t really know much about is how versatile the e-readers are. When it’s possible to read my own texts and edit them on screen, then we’re close to heaven on earth, but I assume that there are restrictions for which kinds of files you can upload to the device, etc.

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            2. Alva’s avatar

              Ge dem till mig så blir jag evigt tacksam. För mig är böcker = lycka. Seriöst. Jag blir aktivt lycklig när jag ser en bokhylla… Böcker och växter skapar hemtrevnad.

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              1. Olle Linge’s avatar

                Ja, alltså, jag tänker fortfarande behålla lagom många böcker för att täcka en fyra meter lång vägg i ett korridorsrum. :) Du är medveten om att i alla fall en del av de böcker jag pratar om nu är böcker som jag fått av dig för att du inte ville ha dem, va? :)

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              2. Alva’s avatar

                Jaja men jag vill no ha tillbaka dem… :P haha

                Reply

                1. Olle Linge’s avatar

                  Kom och hämta då! :)

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