Books: To Buy or Not to Buy

This essay was written by Brandon Monk.

“The ideal library symbolizes everything a society stands for. A society depends on its libraries to know who it is because libraries are society’s memory.” Manguel, Alberto. A Reader on Reading. New Haven, Conn.: Yale UP, 2010. Kindle loc 4729.

“The ideal library (like every library) holds at least one line that has been written exclusively for you.” (Manguel loc 4759)

I could’ve titled this post “Confessions of a Bookstore Junkie.” I go every chance I get, but I’m not a collector. I even try to visit bookstores on vacation. For example, in March I get to go to New York and plan to visit Strand and in June, if the trip goes as planned, I will visit Shakespeare and Company while in Paris. I order books online and use a kindle/nook but still find myself going to bookstores on the off-chance I might make a discovery.

My library card is current, but I tend to move toward book ownership rather than book borrowing. Buying books forces you into giving the author the requisite commitment through investment. Borrowing books gets you into the library which you should learn to use anyway.

Borrowing books from friends is a third option. To lend means to risk the owner won’t return your book with your notes and with your memories written in the margins. To borrow may mean you see the book through the lender’s eyes first.

Search for books by looking “through the review sections of newspapers and magazines, talking to friends about their favorite books, whenever you meet someone in an interesting profession ask them, check out acknowledgments, blurbs and bibliographies of books you do like, read a collection of essays to try out different authors, read a book about books, search the internet, go to author websites, search for listervs, chat online about books, and go to libraries and bookstores!” Dirda, Michael. Book by Book: Notes on Reading and Life. New York: Henry Holt, 2006. Kindle,  loc 1547.

Ready access to books is a relatively new phenomena. “We take books and mass literacy for granted, but in reality, they are a recent iteration, going back not even a millennium.” Ulin, David L. The Lost Art of Reading: Why Books Matter in a Distracted Time. Seattle, WA: Sasquatch, 2010. Kindle loc 62. Books were never easier to get your hands on. Amazon offers thousands of books for free online and Project Gutenberg touts 38,000 in free ebooks. An iPad/iPhone app offers free books as well.

I don’t care how you get books, but give yourself multiple options and an opportunity for chance discovery. Getting books into your reading pipeline should be a comfortable experience.

The world is your “ideal library.” Buy or Borrow, there is no reasonable excuse not to find a book you love.

For further reading, consider Amarie Fox’s essay on The Ethics of Buying Books.

Photo: Some rights reserved by the pale side of insomnia.