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Why I Used To Never Buy Books- And Why I Now Do

Up until a few years ago, I almost never spent money on books. I relied exclusively on the library for my reading habits- and why not? I live near a great library system with multiple convenient branches, and I could order any book I wanted via their online system. Sometimes I had to wait for something I’d requested, but there was always another book to read while I was waiting.

Just before I started this blog, in the summer of 2011, I bought a Kindle so I could read a lot of books on a long trip I was taking with my husband. That was my first experience with paying for books, and I realized it wasn’t half bad. It was nice to get to read whatever I wanted without waiting, and to keep the books for re-reading later. Since the price of e-books is lower, I didn’t feel like my reading choices were as monumental as paying almost $20 for a book, and the Kindle itself eliminated the storage problem of my already groaning book-to-bookshelf ratio. (Yes, I know I said I rarely bought books, but people often gave me books, and I did own some new ones- the entire Harry Potter series, for example. Also, I have a lot of college textbooks.)

I had initially bought the Kindle just for traveling, but I found it extremely useful in another scenario: reading while nursing. You can’t turn a book’s pages while holding a baby, but you can click a page button with your thumb. I was able to read a surprising number of books this way while on maternity leave.

I began to use to Kindle almost exclusively. I rarely had time to go to a bookstore or a library to browse by myself, and the Kindle made it much easier to keep a steady flow of reading material.

After awhile, though, I started to feel like the joy of reading a book was lessened by the electronic device I was using. There have been several recent studies done on how reading a “real” paper book connects more deeply to your memory and pleasure centers (see this Guardian article for one example). And so I made a turnaround, deciding I would always keep a new book to read on my Kindle for situations where it would be more convenient to use, but I would primarily read bought paperbacks and library hardcovers.

There were other factors involved in this decision. For one, I wanted my son to see the evidence of my reading. He loves his books right now, but I can’t assume he’ll still love them when he’s 6 or 8 years old. I want him to see how important books are to me, that I carry them around with me and sneak in reading whenever I can. A Kindle makes it less obvious that you’re reading; a paperback communicates the message.

I also considered where I wanted to spend my money. We’re Amazon Prime members, and I get a lot of household things delivered to the house. I love how easy that is, and how little time it takes out of our lives. But for more meaningful items, I like to take my time and buy local if I can. Buying books from local bookstores supports them and the local economy. I figure that it’s an investment in my future, too, because the local bookstore is where I’d want to start my own book tour someday.

All of that leads up to last week, when I took an afternoon off and spent over an hour in my favorite local bookstore. It was one of the best hours I’ve ever spent by myself, and I realized the final reason why I want to buy books: the experience of buying is just as meaningful as the books themselves. A great bookstore browse, followed by reading with a cup of good coffee, is my idea of heaven.

I picked up and put down many books, but here’s what I came home with:

My most recent bookstore binge.
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My most recent bookstore binge.

From top: The Evolution of Calpurina Tate, YA fiction. I knew nothing about this book when I picked it up, but it immediately looks like a great read. Why I Read: looks to be as much about writing as reading. Win-win. So We Read On, a book about the greatness of Gatsby; I bought this one for my dad, an eternal Gatsby scholar. (True Gatsby-lovers will recognize the reference in the title.) Very Good Lives, a printing of J.K. Rowling’s Harvard commencement speech (proceeds to charity, as with most of Rowling’s “little” books). And finally, Press Here: the game, bought for my little lover of Herve Tullet books. (I haven’t given it to him yet, as he just got a bunch of new games and puzzles for his birthday.) Not pictured but bought in the same haul: a t-shirt that says “Eat. Sleep. Read.”

In what mediums do you read? Do you think that reading a printed book is different from reading on an electronic device? 

7 Responses to “Why I Used To Never Buy Books- And Why I Now Do”

  1. Cristen says:

    I find this so interesting. My girls were at the exact same age as your little man when I started to make a point to sit down with a book so they could see me reading! And while I don’t have any favorite independent bookstores where I live, I’ve also been making an effort to buy real books in person again. Even if I’m in a big chain bookstore, I feel like I am supporting the endangered species that is the brick and mortar bookstore. And I was just here yesterday- got three childrens books- new Ladybug Girl, Goodnight Yoga, and the sequel to the Napping House. As well as a magnet which reads “do more of what makes you happy”- words to inspire me to watch less mindless TV and read more, run more, and make more music!

    • Leanne Sowul says:

      I love all the fun things you can find in bookstores! And I’ve learned that a bookstore browse, when it’s the right store, is my absolute favorite way to spend time by myself. It’s as rewarding as the books themselves. We’ll keep doing our part to keep them all in business 🙂

  2. Kathy says:

    Interesting and thoughtful post. I used to mostly use the library because I couldn’t afford to buy books, except on a rare occasion. Then I found used books, both bookstores and Amazon/AbeBooks/my library’s used bookstore, and mostly I buy used. However, I have been thinking about making a few considered purchases of new books every year in order to support authors I love and bookstores in general. Who knew purchasing a book would require so much thought?!

    Also an interesting point about modeling reading for your child, and how reading from a device doesn’t have the same impact as from a physical book. I didn’t have to contend with that when my son was little. My husband is an avid reader, but he reads almost entirely from his Kindle now. I still prefer paper books, but will read on a device when there’s no way around it–what effect, if any, would that have had on our son’s reading habits? He isn’t a reader, despite our best efforts and our examples when he was a child, so while we can influence our kids, we aren’t exclusively responsible for whether or not they become avid readers.

    • Leanne Sowul says:

      Kathy, I agree that children have their own ingrained preferences, and will ultimately read or not read as it pleases them. But I think there’s also something in “monkey see, monkey do,” as far as exposure to hobbies and habits goes. And even if my son isn’t a reader, I still think it’s important for him to know that I love reading because it’s a huge part of who I am. I can only hope that someday we’ll be able to connect over that.

  3. Ann Kroeker says:

    My friend and co-author Charity Singleton Craig uses the term “Literary Citizenship” to refer to the ways we can contribute to–even invest in–the work of writers and writing going on in the world. One way is to buy an author’s book. It supports their writing life, and it says something to bookstores and publishers–this book was worth shelling out $9.99 to own a Kindle copy or hard copy. I’m glad you’re buying books, both electronic and physical copies. I see merits to both and love your example of nursing and reading. A friend broke her arm and had to read one-handed; that’s when she grew to rely on her Kindle.

    Lauren Winner spoke at a retreat I attended once and she said, “Buy books.” Simple as that. You’re doing it!

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