In Lydia Davis’s “Freelance” column in the TLS (April 23, 2014), she writes of her book-buying habits,
I would rather buy my books second-hand when I can, not only to take my trade to the independent dealers, but, more generally, like the grandmother in Swann’s Way, because I prefer something old to something new, when I have a choice–something worn and with character, and preferably, in the case of books, previously owned by another reader who has, if I’m lucky, identified him- or herself on a blank page of the volume.
Although I often buy new editions of Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte–one cannot have too many copies of Emma or Villette–I find out-of-print hardcovers and old-fashioned Penguins equally satisfying.
As independent bookstores fail, or, that consummate sign of failure, display their shrinking stock with the covers facing out, I seek books more often at used bookstores. Whether I’m browsing at Jackson Street Booksellers in Omaha or Skoob in London, I find out-of-print Loebs, treasures by H. G. Wells, or, indeed, even Lydia Davis’ translation of Swann’s Way. And, though I don’t feel like the grandmother in Swann’s Way yet, I love not only old books, “worn and with character,” but books written in the previous centuries.
At our house, used books make sense because we so often read classics and out-of-print books. If I were on Twitter, I would tweet that this is the Year of the Nineteenth-Century Woman. (Everything I’ve read lately is either by or about a 19th-century woman.) Such is the power of social media that popular bloggers and tweeters often convince others to read along. (Often I try to read along, but at my age it is often a reread along, so I lose interest.)
My husband never reads what anybody else reads unless it wins an award. We have tried in vain to organize a reading of Joseph Conrad’s Nostromo; we both agree Conrad is great. But now it looks as though it will be Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch instead, because he has heard it is the book of the year. I am still waiting for our discussion of Book II of Caesar’s Gallic Wars–we’re all Latinists here–which I finished in 2009.
So let’s just say if we announce we will read a certain book, we are likely to break that promise.
I’m a middlebrow Midwesterner, and my habits reflect the habits of other middlebrow Midwesterners. In our small city, online shopping is a godsend, though I’m very confused, as many are, about the consequences of shopping at Amazon: have I somehow brought the book down by ordering online? Does it matter where I shop now that Amazon (or possibly Jeff Bezos) owns Abebooks, The Book Depository, GoodReads, and The Washington Post?
Whatever happened to my hipster values?
At the moment I’m not buying new books. I’ve resolved to read the 1,000 or so unread books on my shelves. Ha! We’ll see.
COMMENTS, NO COMMENTS.
My friend Ellen says she is sorry I no longer allow comments at my blog.
At the moment I am experimenting with being “off” social media. Commenting, like tweeting, is often about trying to be interesting, or mischievous, or to link readers to their own blogs. In theory, turning off the comments means I can be grittier in my posts because I’ll worry less about reactions. Occasionally I have found myself back-pedaling in comments, trying to be a 1950s hostess and make all my readers comfortable.
I am, however, very grateful to all the commenters who recommended things for me to do in London. I could not have found those bookstores in guidebooks.
Taking a break form social media gives me more time to do outdoors things in the spring and summer.
I’ve got to get in shape for next week’s bike ride…