I’ve been using the Kindle for perhaps six years now, and in that time I’ve accumulated a library of about 500 books. Nowadays I don’t purchase most of the books I read on the device; I check them out from the library. But I do still buy books for four reasons: i) the book is an aspirational one, like The Cancer Ward, that I buy so its presence on my Kindle can someday taunt me into giving it a shop; ii) my friend wrote the book; iii) the book is so new and so popular that it’s on hold at all the libraries and I want to read it right away; iv) the book is relatively special interest, often a foreign translation, and none of my libraries have it; and v) it was on sale for two bucks and I thought why not.
But, as was the case when I bought paper books, most of these books go unread! The Cancer Ward is an example. I also have A Day In The Life of Ivan Denisovich. As I recall, I bought both books in the same day. I’m remembering now that I own Matthew Thomas’ We Are Not Ourselves and Alissa Nutting’s Tampa and Jeff Zentner’s The Serpent King (all on sale for two dollars). I bought my friend Evelyn’s book The Crown’s Game and I’ve been meaning to read it, but the moment has never been quite right. Awhile back I bought a pair of classic French crime novels, Arsene Lupin and Fantomas, only to realize that I maybe didn’t particularly enjoy classic French crime novels.
And the strange thing about a Kindle library is that it’s invisible. Each volume represents hours of possible reading, but it’s slender and almost invisible: a tiny notation that you can skip past in an instant. If I owned these books, I could look at my bookshelf and run across them and maybe take them down, but because they’re on my Kindle, I often forget that I own them. For instance the other day I was thinking I should buy The Second Sex, only to realize that I already own it.
I organize my books into collections, each of which is of a relatively manageable size, usually only 10-20 books, so I am capable of dipping in and being like, “Hmm, do I want to read a short story collection? Let’s see what I have!” But do I? Not really. Sometimes it does happen though. For instance I recently read My Brilliant Friend after owning it for more than a year. And I read Crime and Punishment about eight months after buying it. And Romance of the Three Kingdoms was a book I only opened after buying it maybe three or four years ago? But those are the only three examples from the last year. Everything else was either taken out from the library or purchased and read immediately.
So in some ways all this book-buying represents sheer acquisitiveness: something that’s no different from any other form of consumerism. Luckily, it’s not expensive as I used to think it was. Nowadays I collect receipts on all my book purchases, since I write them off on my taxes, and in 2015 I spent $700 on books for the Kindle. Which actually now that I think about it is a pretty large amount, but it’s less than I thought I was spending (in my mind I was laying out thousands upon thousands of dollars), and it’s less than I’ve spent on things (weddings, retreats, trips) that bought me far less pleasure than a year of carefully assessing which books I would and would not buy.