Thursday, July 12, 2007

Off the Shelves, part two

First, let me say this: I am not proud of what I'm about to disclose to you.

Here goes: I don't like used things. I don't like to shop at vintage stores or thrift stores. I am skeptical about the idea of buying a used car, even though I am well aware that new cars are a terrible investment. I use Craigslist only to get rid of my own used items, and am always surprised when people want what I am selling. I hardly ever remember to eat leftovers, and have an embarrassing habit of throwing away Tupperware containers because the contents is visibly--i.e. through the plastic--too alien to merit further exploration. And, most shameful of all, I'm not so into used books. I like the idea of them: the musty bookstore, the frisson-inducing experience of finding a hidden gem, the surly bookseller climbing a rickety ladder to show you a first edition of Gatsby. But the reality? The reality is me, harassed and impatient, flipping through a dusty table of cast-offs and despairing of ever finding the one book I can remember having on my list to buy. I am not a thrill-of-the-hunt kind of shopper.

But new bookstores? Oh, let me sing of ye, new bookstores*, let me tell tales of your glory, of the hours I've spent running my gaze over the uncreased spines of your fiction, the afternoons I've whiled away in your comfy chairs, breathing in the scent of your untouched inky pages, the anticipation I've felt choosing tomes from your perfectly alphabetized shelves.

(*a note so that you don't all think I'm irretrievably lame, just fiscally irresponsible: I am speaking here of INDEPENDENT bookstores. Your WaldenBooks, your B. Daltons, your Borders(es), fill me with despondency, the sterile familiarity of the store layouts, the generally unhelpful staff, the selling of CDs at seventeen bucks a pop while the books are buy-two-get-one-free. I will gladly pay more to shop at an independent bookstore, and do so as often as I possibly can.)

I love you, new bookstores. I love you so much that I often indulge in that terrible sin, gluttony, and purchase not only the one book I intended to buy, but a nice juicy stack of books, which I then set on my nightstand and stare at with the manic glee of someone with a behavioral problem.

If this wasn't bad enough already, here is the part that I feel really bad about revealing: Out of this new stack of books, these delicious novels and story collections I was so excited to purchase, I will probably only read, on average, 3/4 of them. Why, you might ask, would I only read 3/4 of the books I was so excited to buy that I paid full price for them? The only explanation I have is that after a few months go by, these books cease to be new. Their shiny covers fail to entice. Like a secret crush nursed for so long that, when finally requited, the make-out sessions leave you wondering what's on the telly, these books bore me before I even begin their first chapters. The books sit on my nightstand, their pages yellowing with the passing of the seasons, and where am I? The new bookstore, of course, buying newer books to place on the dais of their forgotten forebears.

And so, this week, a mea culpa to the orphans of my bookshelves, the Forgotten Ones. I am sorry, Life of Pi by Yann Martel, my husband read you first and by the time he was done I lost interest in you. My apologies, The Collected Letters of E.B. White, you had such a great staff recommendation at Porter Square Books, but you proved too heavy to carry on the T. I hope to make amends, First Light by Charles Baxter, I loved your author so much that I bought five of his books at one time and then became temporarily Baxtered-out. I confess, Nothing But Blue Skies by Thomas Mcguane, I have a terrible habit of buying books about the vast plains of the American West and then never reading them. And lastly, I seek redress, Sons and Lovers and everything else ever written by D.H. Lawrence, I always buy your books when I am deep into a Henry James novel and then never end up reading you. To all of you, and all the other Forgotten Ones who are so forgotten I can't even remember who you are right now, I am sorry. I want to read you, really I do. Maybe this August? Or maybe September... there are a lot of new books coming out in paperback that I might want to check out.

In dread,
Whitney Scharer


Wet Ink said...

Whitney, I love this. I believe it too. Books are physical objects, beautiful in themselves. I love the way a cover feels, the way a book falls open. I often rejoice in a sparkly-new read.

In fact, even if I go the library and get a book out, if I find I really love it, I tend to go and buy it!

Thanks for a great post.


Anonymous said...

Where do library books fall in this equation?

Whitney said...

Good question! I love the library too, and also really love borrowing books from friends. If I really like a library or friend find, I'll buy it for myself.

Crystallyn said...

I'm a total sucker for pretty papered books but I devour them so quickly that I'm starting to find that used is the way to go for me these days.

I'm doing a lot of research lately and I was just buying books but then when they arrived from Powells or elsewhere I discovered they didn't fit the bill. I've been hitting up the library before I decide to buy a book lately. Much more economical in the long run.

I remember reading somewhere once that over 1/4 of all books bought are bought purely for decoration in one's house. I guess that sort of speaks to what you are saying about the beauty of books!

five said...

Hi, my name is Mo, and I'm a

Whitney...I am with you here. I think I need a group. I cannot go into a book store without buying at least 4 books. (I must confess, I do go to B&N and Borders. Like many addicts, I will get it where I can get it). I do not always read them all. Here's what I did last Christmas with the 20+ or so FY2006 purchases that I never read...I put gift baskets together, 3 or 4 books plus a tea cup and Earl Grey tea bags, or 5 books and a bottle of wine and a wine glass. I made another with some girly bubble bath...I used them in a family grab, and people commented on how creative I was, but I think you know my real motive....more space for more new books!

My most recent mission was to obtain the required summer reading books for my 3 teenaged boys, however, I became distracted and made more impulse buys for myself. Finally, on my 3rd trip, mission accomplished! The helpful clerk at Brookline Booksmith helped me check off most of my list, and I walked out with Crash, Black Diamond, The Giver, Life of Pi, What is the What, and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night, for the kiddos.

Diana said...

Good post, Whitney.

Whenever I purchase used books, I tend to go for the ones that are as close to new as possible. I've found some books that are so sticky my hands feel dirty touching them, and so musty I start sneezing uncontrollably. I'd rather buy the new version than risk feeling nausea whenever I pick up the book.