Against Book Stockpiling

SFP at Pages Turned is auditioning a remedy for book stockpiling:

I can buy any book I want, but the catch is, I can’t buy it until I’m prepared to read it. No more stockpiling, no more bumping library books to the front of the queue since an owned book means a book I can ignore until I run out of material with due dates. No, if I buy a book now I should intend to read it immediately.

Like other readers, I’ve tried the “I can only buy what I’ll read right away” method; it didn’t work. There are too many exceptions, and I’m too good at rationalizing. I’ll find something rare at a used bookstore, or be seduced by some sort of incentive, like a coupon, percent off, or BOGO (buy one, get one). I worked in marketing; incentives aren’t fabulous deals. They’re lures to get me in the store (be it real or virtual) so I spend money I otherwise might not.

The only cure for stockpiling I’ve found is to avoid shopping. If I don’t shop, I don’t buy. Lest this sound like I’ve got my act together, even this doesn’t work. I’ve cut back (not out) book purchases, and I’m better about reading purchases right away. But I’m still reading more new purchases than old purchases. And I’ve read about the same number of old purchases as library books, even though I planned otherwise. This summer I took all books off my library queue and was able to complete my summer reading challenge. Once I did that, though, I put several requests in at the library, so I’m right back to bad habits.

My current plan for the library is not to add any book requests until I’ve read more of the older books on my shelf. When I read about a book that sounds good, I send myself an email, then store it in a folder of recommendations for some potential mythical lull in my reading future. The good thing about electronic lists is that they don’t accumulate in drifts around the house and in my purse, wallet, or diaper bag.

My current plan to avoid stockpiling is to buy a book only after I’ve read it, loved it, and am about to read it again, or urge it on my husband. This has resulted in a few purchases this year already (King Dork and Black Swan Green), but overall, I’m buying far fewer books than previously.

I think book stockpiling is like any other bad habit. Different things work for different people, or even at different times for the same person. Like any bad habit, it’s not able to be undone in a day. Recovery is a process, not an event, and is measured by progress, not perfection. While there are many worse habits out there, book stockpiling isn’t harmless. I learned a few things with my summer reading list. I could manage without books on reserve at the library. I could stick to a book plan if I put my mind to it. But a book plan, as opposed to a loose and changeable list, made reading less enjoyable. Once I acquired a book, by stockpiling or borrowing, it became an obligation, rather than something I wanted to read. For me, stockpiling books not only takes up space and is fiscally irresponsible, but it also takes some of the fun out of reading.

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