If you’ve been reading this for any considerable length of time, you’ll know that while I typically don’t make or post New Year’s resolutions, one year – and I can’t even remember what year it was, though possibly it was 2009? — I decided that I would not buy any books. The main resolution was that I would not buy any new books. This wasn’t because I had suddenly become anti-reading or discovered something terrible about book retailers, but rather because I looked at my Barnes & Noble online account and saw how much I’d spent on books the year before. It was painful.
(Interesting thing about book retailers, though…many years ago, I read a piece that described the differences in hiring practices of Barnes & Noble and Borders. Barnes & Noble tended to seek older, more experienced candidates with an interest in literature. Borders tended to hire younger, less experienced candidates who were mostly students and showed no significant interest in reading at all, but were able to complete simple tasks like alphabetizing and working a cash register.)
I almost made it the entire year. Graham and I were at Record Exchange and I found a first American edition of Vurt in hardcover for like $3, which meant of course I had to get it and I didn’t even think about my resolution until after we’d left. I didn’t feel bad about it, though. As asshole-ish as the guy who owns Record Exchange can be and as arbitrarily overpriced as some of the stuff is, Vurt was still a great find and I’d rather pay $3 for a used book at an independent retailer than $15 for a new book from Amazon.
Vurt aside, I really did curb my lit spending that year, and as of now, I have not yet spiraled back into the mad book-buying habits pre-resolution. I buy every now and then, but mostly during sales and with my Kindle. I save the physical book-buying for titles I want to own and hold. Anna Karenina, for example, or Julia Child’s The French Chef Cookbook. This helps because I still have three unpacked boxes of books in this house (not including Graham’s) and nowhere to keep them. Other books are purchased digitally, and while I do feel a twinge of self-loathing for patronizing a mega-retailer like Amazon, it’s so hard to resist the daily deal prices and convenience of ordering. You know how I hate to put on real pants and go outside, right?
On my Kindle at the moment:
The Complete Poems of John Keats
The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins
Electro-Boy: A Memoir of Mania, Andy Behrman
Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad
Bossypants, Tina Fey
You Must Go and Win: Essays, Alina Simone
When I Stop Talking, You’ll Know I’m Dead, Jerry Weintraub
The Book of Drugs, Mike Doughty
Inferno (A Poet’s Novel), Eileen Myles
Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me, Mindy Kaling
Letters to a Young Poet, Rainer Maria Rilke
Belle Du Jour: Diary of an Unlikely Call Girl, Anonymous
Stardust, Neil Gaiman
Galore, Michael Crummey
The Master and Margarita, Mikhail Bulgakov
World War Z: An Oral History, Max Brooks
The Definitive H.P. Lovecraft
Get In the Van: On the Road with Black Flag, Henry Rollins
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Steig Larson
The Belly of Paris, Emile Zola
I’ve read nearly all of these, and of them, I’ve read World War Z twice, Bossypants maybe four times, and have been unable to finish The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (I get it, okay, Sweden is cold) and The Hunger Games (would have loved it when I was 17 and I’m not even bragging right now, but YA prose is just no longer my thing). Both of these books came highly recommend by just about everyone I know, and while I always appreciate suggestions and can see why others like them, unfortunately, I just wasn’t interested. I might finish them someday – I paid for them, after all, and what about long rides and planes? – but for now, they’re going to sit gathering virtual dust because I just can’t with them.
It’s only recently that I came to understand “I just can’t” as a valid reason for not finishing a book. When I was younger, I assumed all books that I couldn’t finish were too difficult or advanced, or more appropriately, that I was not advanced enough to read them. This is what happens when you’re a bookish oldest child with an overachieving streak. I spent a lot of time feeling intimidated by books I thought I wasn’t smart enough to read, but it turns out I just didn’t like. I can’t think of any examples at the moment, but I can say that the books I didn’t like but thought I wasn’t intellectually advanced enough to read weren’t logical options. I mean, I read The Unbearable Lightness of Being (because of the sex) and liked it (because of the sex) in seventh grade, which really freaked out my teachers (because of the sex). And that’s a hard book. Certainly harder than Moby Dick, which, sorry everyone, I never finished. I know it’s a classic and all of that, but it’s fucking boring. I was ashamed about not reading Moby Dick when I was younger, and now I’m confident enough to say “Sorry, it sucked.”
Don’t worry, Younger Me. It might take you almost thirty years to realize that you’re literate and have discerning tastes, but one day, you’ll get there.