Ex Libris: Memoirs of a Recovering Book Addict

After my last post, I received a few direct messages asking about the whole “book diet” thing. What, on earth, could you possibly have against books? Especially since you seem to read an awful lot, for someone who is so anti-book. 

In fact, I don’t read nearly as often or as much as I feel I should. And I am not anti-book, by any stretch of the imagination.

So let me explain the whole “book diet” thing.

Thing is, I am exactly the opposite of “anti-book”. I love books. A little too much. I used to be a bookaholic. Technically still am, as once you have the disease you are never truly cured. I must be very careful about my exposure to book fairs, book stores – especially used book stores – library book sales, even the book section of my local thrift shop. 
Apparently in Baltimore there is a place called Book Thing, where they just… give away the books to whomever wants them. I must never go there. Ever.

Because books are their own reward. I had a collection. And even trying the Marie Kondo method didn’t work because I love them all. They’re BOOKS. (Maybe I was a librarian in a previous life.) Tattered used books on knitting patterns? Absolutely, I will take those. A few slim volumes on random crafts? Hey, you never know when you will have a spontaneous urge to decoupage. Foreign language text books from a few years ago? Give me those, otherwise they might get thrown away! They are all equally important. Someday you might need to reference exactly that book for some arcane bit of knowledge.

When I was younger, my favorite used book store displayed a sign stating “It is bad luck to go into a book store and leave empty handed.” That was practically my personal motto!

Now, the easiest way for me to manage book clutter is to not allow books into the house in the first place. 

I have a few other reasons to avoid acquiring books as well. Ironically enough, owning a physical copy of the book can be the kiss of death for me ever finishing reading it. Because once I know I can take as long as I want… I usually do! This dreadful fate has occurred to basically any book that came into my life over the past several years. Doesn’t matter how interesting the material. If I don’t have a due date to return it (to a library or a friend), I will get about two thirds into it and then it will sit on a table or desk somewhere for months collecting dust until I finally shelve it with the other neglected books. 

The other issue around buying books – especially books I don’t really need (who am I kidding? I need all the books!) is they still consume resources and energy. Making a physical book takes trees, chemical inks, electricity and oil. You can actually search on the internet for “carbon footprint of a book” to find specifics so I won’t belabor the point here. And yes, I know the damage is already done once the book is published. But buying a new book creates a future demand for that book, leading to the publishing and production cycle happening all over again. 

And yet. Often on Amazon.com, the new, unused, unblemished copy of the book costs less that even a “very good” quality copy of the same book. (I don’t buy books in actual stores…. the temptation is simply too great.) So when you are on a budget (and we all are … or should be…), how do you justify spending more money on a book that has already been sullied by another’s hands? Sigh…

Luckily, my local library offers a nice selection of free ebooks. Because it is a “library” the books have expiration dates and sometimes wait lists, and you can’t be 100% sure you’ll find the book you wanted. But they are free, and don’t require any more trees – once a book is digitized, all the bits and bytes are already there for whomever else wants a copy. What’s not to love? If you haven’t already researched what you can get for free through your library, I highly recommend it. 

My own county library offers the following ebook services: Hoopla, Overdrive (now Libby), RB Digital, and CloudLibrary. Actually my library offers Safari tech book access as well, which some folks may be able to get through their employer (particularly if they are in the IT field). Another ebook option I previously enjoyed through an employer was Skillport 24 x 7. Most of these ebook services have apps as well, meaning it’s easier than ever to read on the go. I mean, not like it’s “good” to spend so much time in front of screens as opposed to actually being out there and experiencing the world, buuuuuut if you’re going to read, and can’t afford to buy books (due to cost or space limitations or addiction), then ebooks through your library can be a great option.

I still occasionally break down and actually by a dead tree book. First and foremost: when I am suffering the impulse and I just can’t control myself. (Which is how I ended up with my last book.) Sometimes I will buy to support the author because I believe in their work, and then I make sure to buy new so they get any royalties. This overlaps with the next category, books that aren’t and may never be available in ebook format, mostly self-published types. I will also splurge on reference books I consult often, if they are unavailable in ebook format and I’m tired of requesting them through ILL over and over again. One book in this category I am planning to buy eventually is Sam Thayer’s The Forager’s Harvest. Sometimes I find myself unable to resist old used books… or books that inspire me… or books that I intend to give as gifts. For example Sign with Your Baby is my go-to gift for expecting parents because it helped both my children communicate with me before they could actually speak.

In other words, I am still a book addict!

What are you reading lately? Or at least acquiring books for possible future reading? Or for looking nice sitting on your shelf or bedside table?

2 comments

  1. That the Book Thing is far out of driving range for me is a good thing. The Blue Ridge Hospice Thrift Shop in Purcellville, VA, has a small used book section, with a very good selection considering the small space.

    I do have a problem where I’ll get interested in an author, so I buy all of his or her other books on spec, and then I lose interest or just find something or somebody else, so I end up taking all those books (unread) back to the same book store where I bought them.

    To control the intake of new books, I set myself a certain amount of space (5 bookcases in my study). My books can’t overflow that space, so when the bookcases get full, I have to give some books away before buying others.

    On another topic, don’t discount the carbon footprint of electronic devices. Lookup the rare materials used in e-book batteries; where they come from, and how they’re mined and processed and shipped. Not to mention the battery production process itself. And the energy to charge the battery has to come from somewhere.

    Actual books are just easier to read, and the book stays in your mind longer. There is research to back this up; the transitory nature of electronic screens, compared to the permanence of paper and ink. Not to mention that I can give my books away and other people can read and enjoy them… there is no such ecosystem for e-books, that I’m aware of. And real books last longer; the Gutenberg Bibles from the 15th century are still very readable. Where will our Amazon Kindle books be in 600 years?

    As for what I’m reading, I have gotten into long narrative poems. I’m reading Ovid’s Metamorpheses now, in what seems to be a decent English translation… someday I hope to read the classic Latin authors in the original Latin. Also I’m reading Adolphe Tanqueray’s “Spiritual Life: A Treatise on Ascetical and Mystical Theology”. Every once in a while I dip into the Arthurian cycle, currently “The Idylls of the King”.

    • I really like the idea of limiting books by the amount of shelf-feet they are allowed to take up! I may have to try that approach for myself. As far as the carbon footprint of electronic devices goes… I am going to bet most folks already have one (or several), regardless of whether or not they use them for ebooks, so that damage is already done!

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