I don’t really like to buy things, in general. Except for books. I like discovering them, I like browsing through them, I like stacking them everywhere (then pretending the disorder upsets me, and restacking/shelving them somewhere else), and I actually do love reading them. But there is often a gap between when one acquires a book and when one gets around to reading it. It’s a delicate balance trying to read everything you want to while still allowing random and serendipitous selections to leapfrog to the front of the line. I try not to buy books I can get at the library (unless I plan to write in the book or I feel it must become part of my home library). But it’s the sale and used books that always suck me in because of the one-time-opportunity they present (I can go online or into almost any bookstore and pick up a classic or the latest release, but that $1.00 copy of Cyber-Marx: Cycles & Circuits of Struggle in High Technology Capitalism isn’t going to cross my path again if I leave the thrift store without it).
Thanks to social book sites like Shelfari and Goodreads, my book acquisitions are accurately tracked and I can force myself to face up to my addiction. I always assumed that at least half the books I was taking in were gifts or free (that’s pretty far off given what’s below). I also didn’t realize that about half the books I read every year are ones I already own and the other half are borrowed (usually from the library–did I mention I have two different library cards?). For the past few years or so I’ve had this goal of getting the number of unread books I own down to under 100 in total (at one point, the goal was to read them all, but unless I stop acquiring them, the effort seems a bit futile). And let’s not even get started about the list of books/authors I’d like to read…
I’m certainly not unique in this. Every book addict deals with their addiction in their own way. The lists, the organization (or disorganization), the choosing what to read next, selecting what to keep or what to give away, and how much of their lives are consumed by these thoughts and activities. I also have the problem of being almost physically unable to not complete something I’ve started reading (through high school, I used to read every single page of a magazine in numerical order including all advertising content regardless of the subject matter/topic), which makes me very careful about what I start (most of the time; I’m getting better about quitting at the start or in the middle).
Mind you, I think reading is great and rarely needs to be limited, but collecting and acquiring books is a slightly different beast. One does not need to hoard books to read a lot. For me, I think it’s almost an irrational fear that I’ll have missed an idea/a work/an author that might have been crucial. To what? Now that is a question I’m still trying to answer.