Robin has a couple of really interesting opinion pieces at Dear Author on buying, reading, and book prices. The second post, on the culture of buying v. the culture of reading, particularly hit a nerve for me. Until I talked to her about the subject and then read and digested the post, I hadn’t realized how much my buying patterns had changed, and how much my buying patterns have become disconnected from my reading patterns. I encourage you to go read the whole post as well as the comments it inspired, because I think together they provide an important window onto the larger issue of how our approach to consumption has changed over time, at least in affluent societies. And these changes affect not only the affluent, but also the less privileged within affluent societies and everyone in less affluent societies as well.
I’ve been a steady, even voracious reader for as long as I can remember. When I was a little girl in India books weren’t that easy to come by, but there were private lending libraries as well as friends who brought books from the UK and the US. Money wasn’t an issue for us but availability was. When we moved to the State the situation flipped, so that we didn’t have much money but books were plentiful. We bought books, after a fair amount of thought, from book clubs like Book of the Month and from Scholastic Books (via school programs).
And I borrowed a lot of books from the library. I’d estimate that the vast majority of books I read were from the public library in the medium-sized town I lived in. In retrospect, they had a terrific selection. Lots of general fiction and classics, but also all the children’s books that would be familiar to you, and all the well-loved authors that romance readers cut their teeth on: Mary Stewart, Victoria Holt, Helen MacInnes, Georgette Heyer, the usual suspects were all there. I would go through the stacks, pulling books off shelves and if they looked interesting from the blurb, I’d take them home. My parents didn’t stint on buying books, especially as money became less tight, but with the library it didn’t seem necessary to buy what I read. The idea of a keeper wasn’t meaningful (I could always borrow it again), and I used my limited funds to buy records, since I knew I’d play them over and over again.
When I went to college I started buying academic books, and I discovered the joys of used book stores. I slowly started buying fiction, although rarely in hardback. But any literary or genre fiction that I thought I’d want to own and that was available in paperback made its way into my home. Moving (which I did several times in college) mostly required scavenging lots of book boxes, and by the time I finished my MA I had a pretty decent collection of fiction and nonfiction. Going to India every year during my PhD years and after added to my library because while books are expensive by Indian standards, the exchange rate made them reasonable even for poor graduate students. My baggage weight allotment was usually a third to a half taken up by books.