As many of you will know, in January, I made a promise to myself not to buy any books for a year. I have a large collection of unread books – numbering into the hundreds – and had got myself into the habit of regularly buying armfuls of books I knew I would never have time to read. Despite my addiction to second hand book shop browsing and the thrill of hunting down elusive gems, surprisingly I found it easy to stop buying books. Many other bloggers have been enduring similar book buying restrictions and I have been greatly enjoying swanning around the blogosphere, positively swollen with pride, peppering the comments sections of other people’s posts about the difficulties of not buying books with smug anecdotes of my own lion-like willpower.
Alas, a couple of weeks ago, I happened to be passing the bookshops on Charing Cross Road one sunny afternoon after work. I popped in, just for a browse, as I do regularly. Why I do this has many possible answers. Firstly, I enjoy the tranquility of cool, dusty, book filled basements; they are a pleasant escape from the often hot, sweaty and tourist filled streets of London. Secondly, the second hand book shops I frequent are always filled with a cross section of THE oddest people to walk the earth, and it’s an interesting anthropological exercise to watch the habits of such a weird and wonderful tribe of book lovers. Some carry magnifying glasses, others talk to themselves, many look like they haven’t washed in a year, and most clearly dress in the dark. It goes without saying that obviously I do not fit in with this tribe, as I am practically perfect in every way and have never had a fashion disaster in my life and certainly never talk to myself (ahem), but despite these differences we are united in our love of books, and I enjoy the whispered apologies and shuffling as we all negotiate the often tiny floorspace of said dusty book filled basements. Thirdly, I just love the possibility of finding a treasure. Every time I enter a bookshop, it is with a bubbling sense of breathless, uncontainable excitement that I could find something magical and special and unbelievably, luckily, wonderful, like an out of print Dorothy Whipple, or a beautifully illustrated Victorian children’s book, or a slender volume of poetry with a tear stained love letter, yellow and crackling with age, still tucked within its pages. Book shops are to me as hidden treasure chests and long sunken wrecks are to others; they are a holy grail of wonderment, and whether I can buy from them or not, simply being able to stand within them and soak up the atmosphere of all the tears and laughter and love and despair of lives lived long ago that have seeped into the pages of the books they once owned is enough for me.
However, on this occassion, two weeks ago, it wasn’t enough for me to just be standing in this Aladdin’s Cave of dusty treasures. Harmlessly browsing, my eyes alighted on a lovely old hardback with dustwrapper of E M Delafield’s Thank Heaven Fasting. I’ve wanted it for a while, I never find anything of E M Delafield’s other than The Provincial Lady, and it was only £3. It seemed silly not to buy it, to leave it languishing on the shelf with nobody to read it, love it, or appreciate its presence. I spent a good ten minutes arguing with myself before deciding that I was being ridiculous, and if I wanted to buy a book, I should just buy one; it wouldn’t be the end of the world to break a promise I had made to nobody but myself. Feeling thus liberated, and being of the mentality that it’s not worth doing anything unless you do it properly, I thought, why stop at just one? In for a penny, in for a pound, after all. If you’re going to fall off a wagon, you might as well do it in style! So I ended up buying four books after my seven month long drought; along with Thank Heaven Fasting, I brought home a lovely illustrated copy of Paul Gallico’s The Snow Goose, which I intended for my nephews until I read it myself and realised how sad (yet beautiful) it is, an equally lovely first edition hardback of Mr Skeffington by Elizabeth Von Arnim, and Not After Midnight, a collection of Daphne Du Maurier stories I’ve been coveting for a while. Not a bad haul for a tenner, I thought.
So yes, sadly, I failed at the book ban. I have fallen off the wagon, well and truly. Since then I have bought two more books; a very cheap copy of Richmal Crompton’s Frost at Morning, which I read about on Simon’s blog years ago and was very chuffed to find in a bookshop last weekend while visiting Jane Austen’s house, and Juliet Nicolson’s The Great Silence: 1918-1920, Living in the Shadow of the Great War, which was in the charity shop up the road from my work, and sounds fascinating, especially in the light of my recent reading of Testament of Youth. However, I know I won’t be going back to my previous ways of obsessive book buying; I have learnt to weigh up purchases carefully, to consider whether I can wait for them, and to never succumb to the temptation of buying online. My seven months of abstinence have made me much more choosy and less impulsive, and I can’t see the TBR pile growing to the proportions I have allowed it to in the past. So, while I failed to last the full course of a year, I did still reap many benefits from my promise, as did my bank balance. And my floorboards.