I buy a lot of books; more than I have time to read, and I read a lot. I suspect that this gives me something in common with many readers of this blog, or, for that matter, with a lot of 20-somethings living where literary types tend to congregate, like Boston, Seattle, San Francisco, college towns, and all of New York City except for the Upper East Side.
This January, I decided to take a page from a couple of friends, I decided that I wouldn't buy anything other than food and dry cleaning in the month of January. I'm frugal to begin with, and a recession is on, and people are going out less and spending less money, so the project wasn't as difficult as I thought it would be. Then, February came around, and The Strand had a big sale on Kurt Vonnegut so I bought three I've been meaning to read for years: Breakfast of Champions, Cat's Cradle, and Galapagos. While I was there, I picked up a $6.95 copy of Gary Shteyngart's Absurdistan. He's one of the most exciting young novelists in America, and you can't pass that up, right?
Then, McSweeney's had a big online clearance sale, and $5 copies of The Better of McSweeney's, Michael Chabon's Maps and Legends, and Nick Hornby's The Polysyllabic Spree, Housekeeping vs. The Dirt, and Shakespeare Wrote For Money found their little way into my cart, opening the floodgates. Over the course of the next couple of weeks, I picked up a used copy of the great Susan Orlean's My Kind of Place from am outdoor table in front of a Smith Street used bookstore for $1, turned a couple of Amazon.com gift certificate into Bob Dylan's Chronicles: Volume One and Rick Perlstein's Nixonland. Earlier this week, killing some time before a doctor's appointment in the village, I treated myself to a handful of birthday presents - Tobias Wolff's Old School, Nick Hornby's 31 Songs, E.L. Doctorow's The March and J.D. Salinger's Franny and Zooey.
So: A total of 14 books purchased, versus 10 books read. Since all of the books were used, on sale, or bought with gift certificates, they probably didn't cost more than $80 altogether, but still - I'm supposed to be saving money in a bad economy, right? What ever happened to that modest goal?
I guess it shows how reading leads to more reading - Hornby's winning books of literary criticism inspired me to pick up a couple of the books he recommended, and also to pick up his book of music criticism. Reading one great Vonnegut novel inspired me to buy three more once they reached a price point I felt that I could justify on my government salary. Dusting off a great Dylan bootleg I hadn't played in a couple of years inspired me to pick up Chronicles, and my belated viewing of Frost/Nixon did the same for Nixonland. Reading is tricky like that.
Of course, all of these books could have been checked out of the library, and in fact my most recent splurge (if you can call a $25 expenditure in New York City a splurge) led me to, finally, after months of struggling with its shitty website, to walk into a branch of the Brooklyn Public and ask a librarian to show me how to order books from its catalog online. (Why can't the Brooklyn public library's website be as easy to use as the New York public library's? I don't get it). Anyway, my next batch of books will be coming from the BPL. But not just because only because my bedroom is running out of shelving.