It was as I tried to squeeze all 784 pages of Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch – my final purchase of 2013 – on to an already overcrowded bookshelf that I realised I had a problem. Piles of books were all over the house, many of them unread. There were unopened political doorstops; texts from the undergraduate canon with embarrassing student notes on 10 pages – “heteronormative cliché!” was a particular favourite – before my attention petered out; stacks of classics consigned to the “one day when I have time” category. Clearly my supply and demand assessments were way, way off.
And so the pact began. My rules were simple. Books could be accepted as gifts or used when needed for work. They could be purchased for others, but not as a backhanded way of smuggling them into my own library. My fellow Brits may have spent £2.2bn on books in 2013 but I was no longer going to be one of them. Every page I turned in 2014 had to come from those already inside my house.
She mentions that “My new tactic of reading only what I already own turns out not to be new at all: Susan Hill wrote a whole book on the subject, Howards End is on the Landing, in 2009,” and some of the commenters on those earlier LH posts seem to successfully maintain policies of never buying more books until they’ve read all the ones they own already; I don’t know if I find such restraint admirable, but I know for sure that I could never emulate it. And I’m pleased to say that I have in fact eventually gotten around to many of the books that years ago no one, including myself, believed I’d ever read. But it’s true I’m adding very few these days, and the ones I acquire are usually for the Kindle. Even I am abashed by the groaning shelves and growing piles… (Thanks, Paul!)