Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Buying Books versus Taking Them Out from the Library

In the last five days I have spent more than $100 dollars on books, not a huge sum, but not a small one either. I bought Scott Kemble’s Soma, Jason Roberts’ A Sense of the World, Kevin Devlin’s The Numbers Behind Numb3rs, Lawrence Wright’s The Looming Tower, Charles Shields’ Mockingbird, and Kate Atkinson’s One Good Turn. They were all paperbacks.

In the same period, I took three books out of the library: Ann Packer’s Song Without Words, Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion, and David Oshinsky’s Polio: An American Story.

Looking at this small sample, it seems that I buy more books than not. But the opposite is the case: I rarely buy hardbacks, unless they are by my friends, and I only occasionally buy paperbacks.

As an aspiring author who hopes lots of people will buy my book, how do I defend this position? I admire and respect so many writers and I root for them and cheer them on even when I don’t know them. This should translate to buying lots of books, but it doesn’t.

When I first started this blog I wrote about my obsession with working the hold lists at various libraries and the rental bestseller list at the bookstore A Great Good Place for Books in Oakland. The bookstore no longer has a rental program, much to my dismay, but I have continued to finesse the books I have on hold at the Berkeley and Oakland libraries. I can’t tell you how much pleasure I get from hearing about a book and then rushing to reserve it, gaining a third or fourth or occasional first place in line. If I don’t rush, there can be 30 to 40 holds on a book.

I could go out and buy these books, but I get a lot of satisfaction from the chase. It’s perverse, and doesn’t support authors, but it gives me purpose in life. How many people think about their library hold list a few times a day? Not many, I can guarantee.

For the last few weeks, I have maxed out the number of holds I can place with the Berkeley Public Library. The limit is 16, although a librarian told me yesterday the limit might soon go to 60! So I have had to cancel some books I had reserved (sorry Martha Raddatz, but your book on the Iraq war was just taking too long. Ditto Nancy Horan. A friend I respect told me she found Loving Frank a bit contrived) Just yesterday I added Shalom Auslander’s new memoir to the list, so I am maxed out again.

Here is what I am waiting for:

What you Have Left by Will Allison

He’s taught fiction at the Squaw Valley Community of Writers a few times. I’ve heard him read before, and he is wonderful. His publisher took out a full page ad in the New Yorker touting this book, but I don’t know if it has gotten much recognition. (Oops, I just checked and saw this book has been declared lost. Now I may never get it.)

Four Seasons in Rome: on Twins, Insomnia, and the Biggest Funeral in the History of the World by Anthony Doerr. He is the son of the novelist Harriet Doerr. I heard this one was great. It’s a memoir about the time he spent at the Rockefeller Foundation on Lake Como.

The Indian Clerk by David Leavitt. This is a novel about Britain during World War I and an East Indian mathematician. My husband and daughter love math, so I thought they might enjoy this.

An Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England by Brock Clarke. One of the hits of the season. I could have purchased it for $12 at Costco, but didn’t. What’s worse: buying from a chain or getting it from the library? I bet the author would encourage me to buy, regardless of place.

The Almost Moon by Alice Sebold. (This, too, is for my daughter, who loved The Lovely Bones)

The Abstinence Teacher by Tom Perrotta. I really enjoyed Little Children.

The Septembers of Shiraz by Dalia Sofer. My friend Ilana DeBare said not to miss this one.

Trashed by Alison Gaylin. Then there are those books I reserve and can’t remember why. I think this one is a mystery featuring a reporter.

The Genetic Strand, by Edward Ball. I really do love nonfiction and this one could be good.

One Drop, by Bliss Broyard

How Starbucks Saved my Life : A Son of Privilege Learns to Live Like Everyone Else by Michael Gates Gill. This sounds hokey but actually has gotten some interesting reviews.

As you can see, my reading tastes are eclectic. I probably should focus but what fun is there in that?


Sharon said...

Frances--When my 86-year-old great aunt visited this fall, I unintentionally denied her just this thrill of the library hold chase. She mentioned several times a day that she was number 20 on her library's hold list for "A Thousand Splendid Suns," and she was worried that her name might come up while she was visiting here. So I, thoughtfully, bought her the book. She was so disappointed!Gracious,yes, but visibly disappointed that she would no longer have something to worry about and look forward to!

Scott said...

Frances, you can check any book out of any library any time -- except mine. Mine, you have to buy. ;-)

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Anonymous said...

What about used books? My favorite shops: Pegasus in Berkeley and Green Apple in SF. And, while I prefer to shop locally, Powell's is a great late night "got to have it" ordering fix.