Confession of a cheap bibliophile

Published by GrahamLewis in the blog Reflections on My Golden River. Views: 38

I suppose it could seem hypocritical for a would-be author to refuse to buy full-price books. But that's what and who I am. I have a fairly extensive library, but for the past several years all additions to it were either gifts or library-sale used books. And as the years have gone by, the quality of $2 books has risen extensively -- I find books now that are barely opened and that sold new just a year or two back for $25 or $30, some inscribed with love, and more than one with the birthday or Christmas card tucked into the book, obviously not even opened.

At first I was thrilled to find such affordable books, because it allowed me to build a library I could one day leave to my daughters. Now I am downsizing it, giving books back or away, keeping only the few favorites I like to revisit. I simply no longer see the need to "own" a book I will only read once, not in this day of interlibrary loan and books-on-CD.

My motivation to build a library came from my childhood. My father was a traveling salesman who loved reading and literature, but, for reasons never really made clear to me, eschewed the chance to go to college after WWII on the GI Bill. But what he did do was stop in used book stores in every small town he visited. In retrospect it was clear that he was building a library of fiction and history, from original publications of Mark Twain to books on Wisconsin lore to wartime sagas to humorous works. Some he appears to have bought because he'd heard of them and felt they made his library complete, but many others he bought because he enjoyed them, and some of his favorites were small edition idiosyncratic works. He liked nothing better in those evenings when he was home than to pull out an old favorite and spend a quiet hour or two. When he passed away my mother let each of us children select one or two we recalled from our childhoods, and she sold the rest to a dealer, who said it was one of the most complete small private collections he had ever come across.

I think one of my father's never-expressed disappointments was that he could never get us kids to read most of his favorite books while we were kids, and of my own disappointments is that I didn't really appreciate those works until after he was gone. Now I find myself feeling the same way with my own adult daughters. They have their interests, and don't understand mine. I know someday they will. But I see no need anymore to expect them to find themselves in my books, and no need to have shelves of books gathering dust. I simply no longer have the desire to "own" books, as though that captures their essence. It doesn't.

Yet I must confess I still harbor the hope that I will someday be seriously published, and when I do I hope that people who do not share my ownership views will buy my books and I will get royalties. Is that selfish or what?
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