I know I don’t usually write about my book-buying, or at least not nearly as much as about my actual reading and my reading goals. There are several reasons for that.
For one, I don’t usually buy many books in one go, so doing monthly (or even bi-monthly) ‘haul’ (a word I hate, by the way – I’m not hauling in a net, I’m spending money) posts seems kinda pointless. For another, I’m not a big fan of those posts (or Youtube videos, where this format seems to be even more popular) because I feel like showing off just how much you buy encourages a kind of (mindless?) consumerism that I’m rather critical of. Which is not to say that I a) don’t buy books (quite the opposite) or b) that I would judge you for liking – or writing – these kinds of posts. I just… think that showing off the things you get, especially on the regular, can create quite unintended side effects, jealousy and fear of missing out not the least among them. Just because I can afford to buy the books I want (in moderation) right now – and after years of barely buying any books that were not directly relevant to my uni degrees, I might add – doesn’t mean that everyone can, and I’d rather not make anyone feel bad, directly or indirectly, for not being in the same privileged position.
So, why on earth am I writing about my new books now, then?
Two reasons: One, because I’d like to talk a bit about the challenges of buying books, and especially certain types of books, in a non-English speaking country. And two, because I like to think about what (excessive?) book-buying does to one’s – or rather, my – TBR and, consequently, my enjoyment of reading.
Now, I am not, nor have I ever been a ‘small TBR’ kind of person. One reason for that is that I (still) own a lot of books I inherited or bought during my university degrees and never got round to reading, and another is that I like to have a modicum of choice. By that I mean books of different lengths and, more importantly, different genres. I’m definitely someone who prefers to read widely and rarely picks up similar books right after another. No, not even when I’m going through a bit of a phase like I am right now with the whole ‘ships and the Arctic’ theme I’ve had going on since January.
However, I also like my (physical) TBR at a length where it feels manageable, meaning that it feels like I could get through it in a year or two if I really put my mind to it.1. Unsurprisingly, adding several books to it at once – especially books I want to read eventually, but not necessarily immediately – feels rather uncomfortable. For some reason, I have no trouble with digital wish lists, but actual physical books (including library books) can sometimes feel like a burden. This isn’t always the case – the feeling definitely tends to get worse when I’m very busy or have trouble deciding which book to pick up next. Sometimes knowing that I tend to read new books within a couple of months of acquiring them is enough to dispell the uncomfortable feeling of being overwhelmed, sometimes it isn’t.
‘But Merry, why do you go on a book-buying spree then?’ you ask. Well, because of that second issue I mentioned above, aka the challenge of buying English books in a non-English speaking country. I’m not sure I’ve mentioned this on this blog before, but I live in a small town in south-western Germany. Granted, it’s a university town, but it’s still fairly small. Unsurprisingly, the selection of English-language books in my local bookstores is limited. While you can usually get the classics (especially when they’re on a reading list for the running semester) and some recent bestsellers and evergreens, more ‘unusual’ choices (think LGBTQ+ fiction, plays, poetry, authors who are not British or American) are normally absent.
Now, ordering in books is definitely an option, and one that I use frequently. But it does mean that I can’t exactly browse books or check them out before buying them. And while that might not be much of a problem with prose – you can usually get a fairly good impression about a book from watching / reading a couple of reviews and reading a trial chapter on Amazon – that approach really doesn’t work with poetry and other more experimental text forms. Those you’ve got to get a taste of beforehand, or, at least, I like to get a taste of them before buying. I like to get a feeling for an author’s style, and for whether or not I am interested in and can deal with their specific brand of ‘experimental’.
So you can guess that whenever I get the chance to actually browse bookshops in English-speaking countries (and have some space in my luggage), I tend to do just that. Which isn’t to say I go on mindless shopping sprees – I do set myself a budget and rarely pick up books that I know I can easily get back home -, but I definitely enjoy the process of just wandering around the poetry section and picking up all the titles that sound interesting. Which is exactly what I did during my recent trip to the UK, with the shops in question being Gay’s The Word, Foyles, and a second-hand bookstore in Bristol that I forgot the name of.
To prove my point: Of the books in the above picture, five I only bought because I was able to check them out in store (Freshwater, The Girl Aquarium, Grief is the Thing With Feathers, Blue Horses, Brand New Ancients), and one more was an impulse buy because it looked like something I might enjoy (From the Depths). The others are either by authors I’ve read before or that have been on my radar for a while, or presents. I’ve seen exactly zero of these books in my local bookstore before, although I’ll admit that the shop does carry other works by Maggie Nelson, Jeanette Winterson, and Kate Tempest occasionally.
I’m not sure I have a compelling conclusion to these thoughts. I can just say that I’m trying to live with the dilemma of wanting to buy books when I get the chance but not wanting to or being able to read all of them immediately as best as I can. Right now that means that I keep reminding myself that reading a 60 page poetry collection will take me two days max and thus isn’t something to get stressed out about. (I just need to stop buying 500+ page bricks. :D)
All the books I bought or got (from the top):
From the Depth and Other Strange Tales of the Sea – Mike Ashley (editor) / Brand New Ancients – Kate Tempest / The Left Hand of Darkness – Ursula K. Le Guin / The Argonauts – Maggie Nelson / Grief is the Thing With Feathers – Max Porter / Blue Horses – Mary Oliver / The Passion – Jeanette Winterson / English Animals – Laura Kaye / Freshwater – Akwaeke Emezi / The Girl Aquarium – Jen Campbell / Charles Dickens – Claire Tomalin
1.I’m 32, and a year or two is exactly the time period that seems enough to manage significant reading progress but doesn’t feel like too much in the grand scheme of things. Currently, my physical TBR is at just over 100 books, a lot of them leftovers from my degree. That’s just about manageable, I think.