It’s verging on the ridiculous now. In the month since I finished at the Moon Lantern Festival, I have bought at least a dozen books. That’s actually probably quite a conservative number. But I had to celebrate finishing my contract at Moon Lantern, which meant buying a few books, and then I had four days holiday, so I had to buy some more, and then I needed something to read on the plane to Perth, and then had to buy some books in Perth… but the four books I bought last week were pure indulgence. Actually, when I was in the bookshop last week, with a couple of books in my hands, I realised that I was getting a bit out of control, so told myself that this would be it until after Christmas. No more book-buying until after Christmas! But, of course, I was like a smoker who tells themselves they will quit tomorrow – while they smoke an extra few cigarettes to savour their habit, I had to buy a few extra books to savour my habit. After all, I need enough books to last until Christmas!
Why do we feel the need to buy books? To collect books, to display them on shelves and have them staring out at us? I was talking to my colleague at work about my book buying addiction, and my worry about how much my luggage was going to weigh when I go travelling next year. ‘Why don’t you just leave the books behind when you finish reading them?’ he asked. Oh no, I told him, I like having the books, to go back to and remember where I bought them and where I was in the world when I read them and what I was doing… (classic addict excuse).
My colleague used to live in Melbourne, and he told me about ‘this craze’, as he put it, in Melbourne a few years ago to leave a book you’ve finished reading in a public place, for someone to find. Once you finished reading the book, you write a little note in the inside covers and your name, and left it for someone else to discover. ‘It was more about a book as an experience,’ he told me, ‘than a book as an object. You can’t really collect reading a book, only the object. Once you’ve finished the book, you have consumed the experience.’
I thought this was a really interesting way of looking at a book. Does a book lose value once you finish reading it as you have ‘consumed’ it’s experience? After all, once you have read a book, it is just pages sitting on your shelf. That is, unless you choose to consume the book again. And even a big re-reader like me knows that there are some books sitting on my shelves that I am unlikely to ever read again. But I am still reluctant to part with the object of the book. Is this because it is like a souvenir, like a fridge magnet or a postcard, of a previous experience?
No matter how much I like the idea of leaving books for other people to find, and to experience, I still like collecting books. But I will really really try not to buy any until Christmas. Promise!