Books Magazine

On Book Buying Bans and Other Futile Attempts to Tackle Mount TBR

By Caroline

On Book Buying Bans and Other Futile Attempts to Tackle Mount TBR

It’s the beginning of the year and like every year I think I need to change my book buying habits. At the end of last year, for the first time, I went over my book shop purchases and online orders of the last three years and counted every book. And while I was glad to find out that I had bought less in 2016 than in the previous years, I also had to find out that I bought at least three times as many books as I read and that of the books I read in 2016 only 50% had been bought that year.

In the past, I often decided not to buy books for at least three months, participate in TBR dares and double dares and every time I broke the ban within a week, sometimes a day. It just felt like too much of a punishment and I simply couldn’t stick to it. One year, I decided to fix an amount. I decided that I wouldn’t buy for more than X$ every month. You’d be surprised how many books one can buy with even a small amount of money. Suddenly second-hand books became super interesting. So that didn’t work either. Then I decided not to buy more than two books a month. That too, didn’t work because by February I’d already bought the books for March and April too. It’s amazing how one can bend one’s rules.

In the end, I had to admit that restrictive rules that only limited the amount of money spent and/or the amount of books I can buy don’t work for me. I need more than that. I need rules that make sense. So I went back to the piles and purchasing lists and analyzed these in more detail. That’s when I understood that the real problem was buying too much of the same thing.

  • Too many hardbacks published in the current year
  • Too many books by the same author, especially when I’d never read the author in question
  • Too many of the same genre

Of the above, the first annoys me the most. For one, hardbacks are more expensive. Then they are bigger and I have a hard time holding them, so will not be so keen to pick them up. And as soon as the year ends, they feel stale. Everybody has read and reviewed them and it takes awhile until you’re interested again.

Buying too many of the same author is annoying as well. And silly. When I know I like an author, it’s fine but when I’ve never even read him/her . . . Chances that I don’t even like the writer are huge.

The last category is to some extent linked to the first because I tend to buy huge piles of new crime/thriller and sci-fi/fantasy. But there are other genres/types of books that I don’t want to buy too many of. Last year I bought about at least twenty short story collections. Typically they take longer to read and I hardly ever read more than five or six. That makes fifteen for the piles. The same goes for essay collections. I try to read one per month but buy twenty a year. I could add other examples.

Looking at my book buying habits in detail was sobering but I needed it.

Clearly, I need new rules. I want to read more from my piles but I also wan t to stop buying another book published in 2017, as long as I’ve still got an unread book from this year. I don’t want to buy more than one genre novel at the same time and definitely not more than one book from the same author, unless I decide, like last year in the case of Richard Yates, that I’m going to dedicated a whole month to an author.

Additionally, I don’t want to buy more than one book per week. Preferably, I’ll buy more books in book shops. Normally, I read 80% of the books that I buy in book shops, while I only read 30% that I order. There’s a good reason for that. Often I urgently want to read something but it takes almost two weeks to arrive, so by the time I get it, I’m reading something else. However, when I go to a book shop, I pick exactly what I want to read. Since I live in Switzerland, the choice of books in English isn’t big and they are a way more expensive than online (6$ for paperbacks and up to 15$ for hardbacks).

One of the reasons why I buy so many books is that I quickly lose interest in my own piles. In the past, I found that themed reading helped me rekindle my interest in my piles. At the end of last year, when I felt like reading Japanese literature, I went over my piles and discovered so many books, that I got really enthusiastic. Mini-projects like this will help me stick to my piles. I’m not making an annual plan yet, but possibly, I’ll dedicate every month or at least a week per month to either the literature of a country, an author, or a genre.

To cut a long story short – I want to cut my book buying but I’m doing it through “mindful” buying, not through any drastic bans or challenges. The latter don’t work in my case. I’ll let you know how it goes. Wish me luck.

What New Year book buying resolutions do you have?


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