2012 was the year I didn’t buy any books, see here for why. Really. I did not buy any books. Well, okay, I sort of bought two but they were the cliche that proves the rule. I was given a dispensation by Mrs P to buy a copy of Stig Dagerman’s out of print collection The Games Of Night that I found in my local second hand shop, while Freaks! by Caroline Smailes and Nik Perring had been pre-ordered late in 2011 and as such (I felt) it didn’t count as a 2012 purchase, despite it arriving on my doorstep in the middle of my year of no new books. I was also allowed to pick up the required books for my MA course. Other than that the only new books I received were preview/review copies (thanks Nuala, Christopher, Nik and Caroline), gifts or blog prizes I was lucky enough to win.
Oh! Except, that is, for the copy of Nancy Mitford’s Sun King and Flann O’Brien’s The Third Policeman I bought from a second hand shop near The Hurst while on the Arvon/MA residential in April, but they don’t count because I was on a creative writing course. Or because at least one of them was bought for research purposes. Sort of. For a book I might write. Someday. If I ever finish my MA novel. You see? This kind of thinking is what has slowly filled my house up with unread books. It was to combat this kind of thinking that I decided to stop buying books in 2012. Which, as I say, I did. Except for those four books. So, end result. Days: 365. Books: 4. Not bad, if I do say so.
And what did I learn from my self-imposed hiatus from book buying? Quick answer? That I was buying too many books and that I do not need to buy so many. After the initial yearning for new books waned (sometime in February) I realised that I had enough stuff on my shelves (virtual and actual) to keep me going (probably) until 2020. If I read all day. Every day. And didn’t sleep. I soon settled back and got on with reading stuff I’d been meaning to read or re-read for far too long with the added bonus that my ‘to be read’ pile wasn’t growing at an alarming rate, as if the books themselves were shagging like rabbits.
Another neat side effect was the fact that the books given to me as gifts or won as prizes or sent to me to review felt even more special than usual. I actually read some of them fairly promptly, though my Karl Ove Knausgaard is still begging to be started (but the next volume of his memoir/novel is due out in April so I will most likely read it before then, especially as doing so will help me fulfil my resolutions for this year.
I’d like to offer a big thank you to Mrs P and my pride and joys for the gifts of books given this last year, they were like water to a thirsty man at times. And an especially big thank you to the friends and strangers who sent me a book prize or review copy last year. They were more appreciated than ever.
Would I do it again? Probably not. I can’t really justify trying to be a published author if I am not supporting the many great authors and titles appearing on bookseller shelves. Though I will most certainly be keeping the pace down to a steady trickle in order to stick to resolution 7: ‘ I will only buy books I will begin reading in the next seven days.’
Was it worth doing? Definitely. Give it a go yourself, you might like it.
Previously on danpowellfiction:
In 2012 I read these books. Those that say (gift) were gifts, those that say (review copy) were review copies, those that say (prize were)… well….you get the idea:
- The Pearl – John Steinbeck
- Bartleby – Herman Melville
- The Gathering – Anne Enright
- The Jungle Book – Rudyard Kipling
- The Exclamation Mark – Anton Chekhov
- The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ – Phillip Pullman
- Treasure Island – Robert Louis Stevenson
- The Woman In Black – Susan Hill
- The Slap – Christos Tsiolkas
- 99 Reasons Why – Caroline Smailes (review copy)
- Un Lun Dun – China Mieville
- Trumpet – Jackie Kay
- Hotel World – Ali Smith
- Freaks! – Nik Perring and Caroline Smailes
- The Old Man and The Sea – Ernest Hemingway
- Acts of Violence – Ryan David Jahn
- The Best British Short Stories 2012 – ed. Nicholas Royle (contributor copy)
- Lazarus is Dead – Richard Beard (library book)
- The Vaccinator – Michael Marshall Smith
- Mother America – Nuala Ní Chonchúir (review copy)
- The Slaughteryard – Esteban Echeverria
- Heartland – Anthony Cartwright
- Made In Britain – Gavin James Bower
- The Steppe – Anton Chekhov
- Drive – James Sallis
- Reality, Reality – Jackie Kay (gift)
- The Afterglow – Anthony Cartwright
- Beside The Sea – Veronique Olmi
- The Blue Fox – Sjon
- The Lighthouse – Alison Moore (gift)
- The Games Of Night – Stig Dagerman
- Conversations with S.Teri O’Type – Christopher Allen (preview copy)
My MA required reading list for the Novels II unit took up much of my time during October, November and December:
- Everything Is Illuminated – Jonathon Safran Foer
- Going Out – Scarlett Thomas
- A Short History Of Tractors in Ukranian – Marina Lewycka
- Dorian – Will Self
- A Whispering Woman – A. S. Byatt
- Politics – Adam Thirlwell
- Christine Falls – Benjamin Black
- Inherent Vice – Thomas Pynchon
- Burnt Shadows – Kamila Shamsie
- The Stranger’s Child – Alan Hollinghurst
And I finished the year off with the 50th Anniversary edition of A Clockwork Orange in hardback (gift), reading in tandem with the excellent iPad app (well worth a punt for the additional material, not least the readings by Burgess himself and the complete annotated manuscript).
- The Juno Charm – Nuala Ní Chonchúir (prize)
- 12 Nudes – Ross Sutherland
- You Do Not Need another Self Help Book – Sarah Salway (prize)
- Howard’s End Is On The Landing – Susan Hill
- How To Be A Woman – Caitlin Moran
- Beginnings, Middles and Ends – Nancy Kress
- A Life In Letters – Anton Chekhov
- Londoners – Craig Taylor
- Love, Sex, Death and Words: Surprising Tales From a Year in Literature – John Sutherland, Stephen Fender
5 Responses to Reading not Buying
Dan, if you are thinking of writing a book anything like The Third Policeman, I’ll preorder my copy now, please. It’s one of my faves and a big inspiration.
Sorry to disappoint Neil, but the Mitford was the one bought for its relation to a possible future project. I picked up The Third Policeman as I figured it’s a book I should have read by now. Your enthusiasm for the book justifies the purchase.
I need to do this. I am a hopeless book buying magpie *ooh, look, shiny new book* = MUST HAVE. I have shelves spilling over with unread proofs and books I bought because I simply had to have them. And I have some rather gorgeous books that were gifts. MUST READ what I have before buying anything new. Or, at least after I buy the forthcoming Plath bio that is due to be published any day, and not counting ebooks.
Did you have any moments of pure book yearning temptation?
TBH Sara, keeping this resolution (excusing the four purchases mentioned) was made easier by the fact that we don’t have a decent bookshop nearby, except for the second hand shop that rarely has anything that catches my eye. The Stig Dagerman collection was a real find and a surprising book to turn up there amongst the largely popular fiction paperbacks and multiple copies of whatever the local book groups are reading. If a bookshop with displays as excellent as those you create were just down the road, I think I would have found it much harder to resist. I would not envy you trying to do this while working amongst so many temptations.
Anthony Cartwright’s latest novel ‘How I killed Margaret Thatcher’ had my finger hovering over the Amazon buy button but I managed to resist. Mid way through last year I read his two previous books and loved them. They had been sitting on my shelves for a good while. I finished them just as his new one was released and the urge to read them all in a row (nearly) was almost too great to resist. Rest assured I will be picking this one up this year.
Listening to the Guardian Books podcast and Mariella’s Radio 4 show also had me checking out lots of books, downloading their samples to my Kindle. I now have a folder of samples to go through and pick out the ones that still intrigue me. But this year, as you know, one resolution is to only buy books I plan to begin reading within seven days. That should slow down the relentless build up of books on shelves a bit now I am book buyer once more.
I wondered if you’d achieved your goal of not buying books Dan – well done! It seems the exercise proved very useful in focusing your reading needs. Good luck with your resolutions.
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