The Future Is So Far Away: Why Do We Buy Too Many Books?

In 2012, Gabe Habash, author of the novel Stephen Florida, wrote an amusing article for Publishers Weekly, “The Wonderful and Terrible Habit of Buying Too Many Books.” One weekend, as he browsed at bookstores in Brooklyn, he bought four books he wasn’t looking for.

He writes, “… you could call this either a habit of mine or a problem of mine. Either way, one thing it is is a pattern, something that repeats itself, that exists in its very repetition…”

According to Habash, who read several posts and online articles about book clutter, compulsive book buyers cut back or stop after they trip over stacks in their home libraries, or have some similar troublesome occurrence.  Then they  weed their “library’s duplicates and never-will-reads or already-read-and-didn’t-really-likes.”

Does this sound familiar?  It does to me. After a stack of books, toppled by an oversized Folio Society edition, fell out of a bookcase in January, I began my desperate weeding, giving away books I’d  already read.  My goal?  To weed the equivalent of two bookcases and have one book-free room.

I try to buy only books I will read. I spend less time in bookstores now.   On my trip to London, I bought very few, by my standards.  At Oxfam?  Nothing in the fiction, nothing in nonfiction, a very few in the literature section.  I found myself wishing I had gone instead to the London Review Bookshop, with its tables of interesting new books. But even the ten books I squeezed into my suitcase and shopping bag seemed superfluous when I got home.

My home library is better than most bookstores.  I was surprised to realize that.  But sometimes books are mere commodities–good for their (or our) time, but not for long.  Are those stacks of the new Kristin Hannah, the latest Richard Powers, or the new Meg Wolitzer, which has been so hyped that I’m leery, going to be read in 10 years?

The future is so far away.