On falling off wagons

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.

48 comments

  1. Your willpower lasted longer than mine, Rachel, and it’s cheaper than other bad habits! You’ll love Frost at Morning.

  2. Oh no! So all the boasting was flushed into the sewers! What can stop me from buying books whenever I visit the bookstores is when I don’t have cash and it so happened that yesterday, I had a good amount of cash, went inside a particularly grand bookstore, found 3 books I’ve been dying to buy and voila – empty wallet.

    1. Yes it was, Lex! Well exactly – if I didn’t carry any cash with me I would have a lot less impulse purchases in my possession!! I think I’ll have to try that next time I go near a book shop!

  3. “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.” – that did make me laugh! (Query, though – are lions renowned for their willpower?)

    You’ve done very well, and I’m not REMOTELY smug to see you fall off the wagon. Still, I’ve bought 14 books this year, so… (that sounds so ridiculous to me, that I *know* the number of books I’ve bought this year… usually I’d have lost count around the 4th of January).

    As you know, I love Frost at Morning – hope you do too!

    1. I’m glad you found my fall from grace funny Simon!😉 Lion-like…hmmm…not sure. It was the best simile I could think of at the time!

      Thanks – of COURSE you aren’t!!!

      I hope I do as well – I’ll read it shortly and report back!

  4. That is only a few books! That’s hardly falling off the wagon at all! You did quite right. It’s not good to spend your whole life resisting.

    This may be self-justification right here, because I can’t walk onto Charing Cross Road and come away bookless. I want to live in the Foyles, and Henry Pordes is one of my most favorite bookshops in the world.

    1. Thanks Jenny! I should have bought more, really, shouldn’t I?!

      Charing Cross Road is really impossible to leave without buying something…Henry Pordes is magnificent but so is Quintos…and Any Amount of Books…so much to choose from!

  5. Oh, that’s hardly falling off the wagon! And besides, just think that you’re supporting the second-hand trade AND the environment by preventing more trees from being felled.

    I laughed when I read that people bought in magnifying glass. it’s cute and probably very practical but I think I’ll still laugh if I see somebody like that in a store.🙂 I love the unspoken agreement of what I call the Book Browsing Etiquette – two people are browsing the shelves side by side and, when both are finished, they exchange places without saying anything. Love it.

    1. Well you’ve made me feel much better about my lapse now, Mae!

      It’s very true – you need to come to the shops in Charing Cross Road and you will see for yourself! Yes I love that too – we all understand the need to see every corner of a bookshelf, and move around accordingly. No speech necessary! Us book lovers are an extraordinary race!😉

  6. I loved reading this post!! You showed amazing restraint, and here at least in the business world, July begins a new “fiscal year”, so perhaps you did make your year book buying ban…LOL

  7. Oh my ! Your description of the people in the bookstore had me laughing out loud and disturbing my dh’s peace.🙂 I think you’ve done quite well myself since I personally can’t seem to even take a month off from buying. A month may be my personal best actually. The bad part for me is that when I buy nothing for a month, I tend to react the next month by buying two or three times as much in one stop as I would’ve if I’d just allowed myself a small purchase in the prior month.

    Thanks for sharing your “fall” with us. You are not alone by any means!

    1. Hehehehe I’m glad I made you laugh Susan! Well I do the exact same thing – I think ‘I was so good last month, I can buy 10 this month’ – I might as well just buy consistently! It was a pleasure – I had to get it off my chest! The guilt!😉

  8. Oh well, pick yourself up, dust yourself off, start all over again!

    So far, I’ve made good my pledge to buy no more books until I get my tbr piles down to manageable levels. (And I really had made an inroad until my avid-reader mother came to visit in June and brought me a bagful of books to add to the mountain.) However, I will not go to a used book store or a book sale because I know I wouldn’t be able to resist the lure of “just one or two”–and end up carting home several boxes of books!

    1. Yes indeed!

      This is the thing – no matter whether I buy them or not, books seem to find their way to me regardless and the TBR pile just never shrinks! I’m glad you’ve done well though – I think I should have kept away from temptation as well – too late now though!😀

  9. I haven’t managed to keep to a buying ban, although I was never on a total ban, just a set of rules that I was following quite well. But I fell spectacularly off the wagon at a bargain book fair earlier this month (13 books!) and am going on a spree tomorrow. I’m just calling July my month off and throwing caution to the winds. Back to disciplined acquisitions in August!

    1. Good for you, Teresa! Us book lovers just can’t help ourselves, can we? There are worse things to be addicted to buying though – at least books tend to be cheap!

  10. I just posted on book-buyer’s remorse – exactly the kind of thing to bring on a pledge of abstinence. Thoughtful purchasing, though, is something I can always get on board with. Rarely, if ever, will the thoughtful purchase result in remorse.

    Excellent, funny commentary!

    1. Book buyer’s remorse is terrible, isn’t it? I’ve had that before, though it doesn’t happen often as all the books I buy tend to be very cheap and second hand!

      Thank you very much!🙂

  11. So funny! I am actually swollen with pride that I do not even attempt such self-restraint. Feel nothing but happiness for you and your new acquisitions.🙂

  12. You have not, I repeat, have not fallen off of the wagon. The wagon just managed to stop on Charring Cross Road and you slipped and fell into the abyss of books and book buyers and had to rescue a few lonely books whose fate was unknown. Someone had to do it, Rachel. A very brave deed, indeed. Forgive yourself.

    I just giggled with childlike flee at your descriptions of a used book store and those who inhabit them, for I do believe we really do inhabit them and bring them alive. There are a group of us that go off antiquing and when they can’t find me they always know to look in the book sections and say “tsk tsk, don’t you have enough books?” and I smile and say no and think to myself that they don’t know what they are missing.

    Enjoy your new reads, Rachel. I actually did something similar the other day and was going to blog about it soon myself.

    1. Oh Penny, you are funny!!! I wish I could so easily absolve myself of blame!

      Yes I think so too – I like to imagine that booklovers have always been a tribe apart throughout the ages! People who don’t love books will just never understand!

      Thank you Penny – I hope you enjoy your new reads too!

  13. Ha ha! Those are wonderful books and surely very lucky you came to their rescue. Enjoy them without guilt. You did well. Reward yourself.

  14. I really shouldn’t be buying any books either (totally skint…), but I’m finding that reading book blogs is increasing my expenditure because I keep seeing books I must read! I’ve recently started a book diary and am recording my new books. This month has been scary! So, from today I’m going to follow your example and join you on your wagon! Move over, please! (No, further than that… I take up more space than I’d like…)

    1. Book blogs were what caused me to add to my TBR pile to the proportion where I decided total abstinence was necessary, so I know how you feel! You can have my place on the wagon, don’t worry! There’s plenty of room!🙂

  15. Oh, and I forgot to say, I think you’ll love Thank Heaven Fasting. It was one of my recent purchases and it’s just your cup of tea, I’d say.

  16. ‘I happened to be passing the bookshops on Charing Cross Road one sunny afternoon after work.’

    You write that so innocently….as though you stumbled out of the office at the Victoria & Albert and poof!….you’re on Charing Cross Road! I’m killing myself laughing here, you adorable creature. Not that I blame you…like a moth to a flame but you have done really well so what’s the harm. LOVE your book choices and hope to find that EM Delafield myself one day!

    1. You busted me Darlene! There was nothing unintentional about it, you are so right!😉

      Thank you, you are so sweet! Moth to a flame indeed…I did get some good choices, didn’t I? I am so looking forward to reading them!🙂

  17. I’m glad you treated yourself: they sound like irresistible additions to your collection. And I cannot get over the idea of “happening upon” a first edition of one of Elizabeth’s books: it’d feel like such a thrill, especially because so many wouldn’t even recognize it as a vonArnim novel. She is one of my favourite writers: what a lovely find!

    1. Thank you! They were irresistible indeed! I know – I saw that just as I was leaving and I saw ‘Elizabeth’ and thought – I know that name! grabbed it off the shelf and rejoiced at my luck! I have so many Von Arnims but have only read The Enchanted April so far – time to have a binge on EvA I think!

  18. I think 7 months is very respectable. You deserve a pat on the back! I tried a book ban this year and lasted a weekend. Not impressed with myself at all. I think I may give it another go next year.

    1. Thank you!!! Well…my first attempt many moons ago resulted in two days worth of steely determination so I have beat my own record! I hope it works for you next time!

  19. I think your fall off the wagon sounds like the best thing to do under the circumstances. Wagons on Charing Cross Road are always going to be a touch precarious. I love those bookshops too – it’s another world! I often want to strike up conversation with my fellow shoppers, I’m sure they have such interesting tales and such strong and interesting feelings and opinions.
    The DdM short stories are wonderful wonderful wonderful, I hope you enjoy them.

    1. Hi Jane! Yes indeed they are – people on wagons shouldn’t really go anywhere near Charing Cross Road!😉 I know I feel the same…but book shop people are usually so eccentric that they frighten me a little so I never speak to them for fear of starting a ten hour long conversation!

      I’ve already read them…I need to blog about them actually…I quite agree, I thought they were spectacular!

  20. Amazingly good going lasting so long. I am very impressed (but also impressed that you found an EM Delfield that was not Diary of a Provincial Lady).

    But I swear this is how it starts. I was quite happy at the end of my three month book ban – ah I thought I will just buy one big bulk load as a reward and then begin again, but have never been able to get back on the wagon.

    1. Thank you Jodie! I know – E M Delafields are hard to come by!

      Yes – well, my impending international move will put paid to any more indulgence – I can’t take them with me so there’s no point in buying more!

  21. I will be in London in November from Pennsylvania in the U.S. and wondered if you could give me recommendations for bookstores to visit – used and new as that’s usually what I buy when I visit London – more books! tx

  22. Ah, Daphne duMaurier. I own copies of most of her novels, but didn’t know about this short story collection. I’ll have to add it to my “to find” list!

    1. I’ve read it and it is fantastic! It is now printed as ‘Don’t Look Now’ and is possibly a New York Review Book – check amazon for it! If you love Daphne Du Maurier this will not disappoint.

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