21 May 2007

why buying books is good

obviously one need not even argue the above statement. buying books = good. end of argument. QED. But I've gone back and forth on this over the past few years as a global nomad--went on an amazon/bookfinder embargo for a couple of years there, using the library (horrors!) instead of the bookstore. occasionally, when the library didn't have the book and I needed it sometime between now and 5 minutes from now, I've bought the book. But the collection hasn't grown too much over the past few years, and now that we're settled there's been a bit of a loosening of the book purchasing belt, but not too much.

It used to be, when I had no income in grad school and yet I was in grad school and surrounded by used book shoppes, remainder sales from the university press, and obsessive friends who knew the market and their collections by heart, that I bought quite a lot of books. too many, some might say. most might say. did I need the boxed, beautiful Topkapi multi-volume set? probably not. but how pretty! I claimed I could stop at any time, and well, I did. a lot of books I'd buy because they looked interesting, smart, intelligent, and potentially useful. or because they were Important. in 1994. now, not so much.

I learned today, however, what a boon bookbuying is. I was looking for folks who have written on Ambedkar, the advocate for the untouchables and leader of the anti-colonial movement in India who converted to Buddhism towards the end of his life. I haven't ever been fully interested in him before, but I'm looking into the Buddhist symbolism of early Indian nation-building, and finding a lot there. Ambedkar is central. Fishing on google books (favourite pasttime), I found a reference to a book there. partial preview. intriguing. does the library have it? no. wait! do I? huzzah. thank my graduate school self for purchasing the 'it' book of 1996 and keeping it until now. So I'm good to go. probably should start buying books again, right?

must check with budget manager.


Jack said...

Ah...book buying. I remember it well. I've only recently had the opportunity to buy some truly beautiful books on Chinese furniture. Books that make even the best art history books look, well, amateurish.

But, let me also tell you of my secret pleasure that constitutes the flipside of book buying. I've recently deaccessioned about 50 books from my rather too large collection and was amazed by how much I earned in the process. This time I bought tools and not books. Also a pleasure, though not quite the same.

Last, since I'm rambling, let me encourage all those rabid academic book buyers out there to once in your life make a pilgrimage to the Seminary Coop Bookstore at the University of Chicago. It's arguably the best academic bookstore on the planet and the book buying/browsing experience cannot be bested. Well worth the trip...

Ruth said...

I'm torn on the whole book-buying thing. Which wavering may come as a shock to anyone who's ever been in my house.

I've always bought books in large quantities -- and justified many such purchases during grad school as part of my "building a professional library" (thank you, Seminary Co-op -- and Powell's). And, indeed, I've found many of said volumes tremendously useful. I've also got, though, huge numbers that aren't particularly useful, and probably never will be. Many of these (am I betraying my profession?) are fiction. Do I really need the complete works of Henry James? Have I ever -- I mean ever actually cracked open one of the volumes of said set? (as opposed to the various single-volume James editions I also own).

In theory, I love having books around -- but they also consume a lot of space, cost money to house (bookcases ain't cheap), and exacerbate my asthma. And if I really, honestly, never look at some of them -- if I've outgrown, say, my passion for the diaries of Anais Nin -- then deaccessioning would seem to make sense.

The trouble is that, unlike Jack, I haven't had too much luck getting paid for my spare volumes the few times I've tried. Turns out the ones I'm willing to get rid of, despite their uniformly excellent condition, just aren't that desirable to bookstores, any more than they are to me. This is the same problem I've had with clothes that no longer fit me, or that I've just gotten tired of: if they're more than 6 months old, the resale shops just don't want them. I assume that book-buying isn't quite as fashion-dependent, but I'm still hitting a brick wall.

So do I just donate perfectly good books -- books that I spent a lot of money on, and treasured at one point in time -- to the library booksale, knowing they might end up pulped, simply in order to have more wall space on which to hang pictures? How different does that make me from a woman I once knew who got rid of every book in her apartment, because they didn't match the decor?

So much of my life has been invested in books that it's hard to imagine changing at this point...

Daniel said...

Ruth - gosh no, you don't just donate them! I have heard great stories of friends selling off parts of their book/dvd/cd collections on Amazon. It's probably the best way to get the current market value for each book. And when people are browsing a particular book and see the "Buy it used!" link which allows them to get it on the cheap, they usually do. Also good if you have something rare/collectible/out-of-print. The downside is the work of selling and shipping each book individually.