“We’re not big spenders”, we like to say, but like most people there are ways in which we could be more careful, more ethical, in how we spend… more aware of how First-World-Lucky we are.
My husband’s socks may have holes and his t-shirts may be unintentional nostalgia of when we met 12 years ago, but still, when it comes to who’s the bigger spender between us I would point to the music system he came back from “coffee” with, or to the ugly, grey lamps that appeared after Black Friday. I might suggest that we did not strictly need a random gadget or 2 and I would certainly roll my eyes toward the selection of ‘Chris things’ he values so much.
Me? My spending is modest. BOOKS. Buying books is always good, isn’t it?
A little brown package popping through the letter box has surely saved my life a time or 2, and yet, I see my husband’s arched eyebrow now and again when a new book appears. The eyebrow says I see you there, spending our children’s inheritance, one Amazon package at a time. Or something.
The eyebrow pisses me off sometimes, but the eyebrow is kind of right.
So just before Christmas, when we were in a time of extreme penny pinching, I decided it was time to give up this spending habit, to discipline my Amazon click and rediscover the good in waiting.
And so 2014 has been a year of library books, Oxfam and waiting for my birthday.
I don’t know when I stopped going to the library but I lost my sense of the value of books when I did. For me, the library had become somewhere for my children. It was important for them to have library cards and a trip to borrow books was deemed a valuable activity. I, on the other hand, had simply stopped browsing, looking for or ordering books at the library. My Amazon click had replaced all of this and as well as the cost, I sometimes ended up with books that really hadn’t been worth it, I didn’t love them enough to own.
Finding a few writers I love on the internet has given me a trove of recommendations, and I am grateful for some cracking finds. But I had been ordering books too quickly, too thoughtlessly.
So my first library trip was to order a book I was considering buying for someone, but wanted to read first. Previously I would have just bought it for myself, especially since I knew our small-town library wouldn’t have it. I think some smug part of me suspected it would be un-orderable, that Libraries NI would not have it, anywhere, and I would be sent back to my laptop and pre-stored credit card details. At least I had tried.
But libraries do work after all, and I enjoyed the anticipation of waiting for it, and going in to collect it when it arrived. I have always loved beautiful libraries, and had dismissed my small local one, above the chippy and closed-down video store. But inside it still has the goodness of a library. I have also noticed how when I use it, I engage more with the place where I live. I often combine a library trip with a walk and I’m more likely to call into the local butchers, or stop for coffee in my small town, contributing in little ways to the kind of spender I would rather be.
I am not a lover of shopping, so the internet version is certain kinds of good for me, and I’m grateful for it, but I also lost something when I started shopping this way exclusively. It’s like on one hand – a novel through your post box is an AMAZING invention … but on the other hand is the smell, the displays and the meandering of a bookshop.
Am I missing something by staying on the sofa and not going to bookshops? Yes, I am.
An Amazon purchase is so helpfully convenient in my busy life. Here’s what going to the bookshop looks like: walking to the bus stop, getting the bus to Belfast, browsing for my book, getting my book, needing to stop for a cup of tea, waiting until there’s a bus, walking home.
Oh wait, that sounds like BLISS. I forgot that’s pretty much my ideal morning! So, taking a Saturday morning off every few months just to do that? Wise idea.
Shopping in actual towns is only stressful for me if I try to do all of the things. But bus-book-shopping makes me slower and less crazy and feels wonderfully subversive. It’s a productive kind of time wasting and I need it most precisely when I’m certain I don’t have time.
So I have been reacquainting myself with the Oxfam bookshops (one of which has the added advantage that I can restock on nose-studs next door) and I have been reacquainting myself with Waterstones, finally spending a token a friend bought me over a year ago. She gave it to me with great enthusiasm not long after Imogen was born. This friend can be counted on to always buy me a book for a present but she had started a one-woman campaign to get people back into ACTUAL BOOKSHOPS. I was tired and sore and busy and disorganised, disappointed with her ill-advised idea to buy me a token instead of a book that I could flop with immediately. When would I ever get to Waterstones to spend it? Well I did, eventually, and she was right.
I also lose something when I don’t let other people buy me the books that I love. They want to buy me my favourite authors, they want to wrap up with a bow the stuff I am itching to read. Some books deserve more than that familiar brown box.
I had got into a habit of adding things to my Amazon wish-list that caught my fleeting interest, but buying less books has forced me to follow Jaybercrow and Espero‘s example of thinking and mulling over and honing lists so they only include stuff we really want.
I anticipate my birthday more because I get books I have been hankering after. Also, because I hadn’t immediately bought my most wanted new-releases, my husband was able to creatively excel himself by getting in touch with 2 of my favourite authors and making the giving of their books extra special for me. It didn’t cost a trip to Paris, but it was The Best Present Ever.
This is a mix of the books I waited for or browsed for so far this year. (Of course disappointment is still possible, so in case you are in the habit of also buying books recommended on the internet, all I can say is Douglas Coupland is no longer a sure thing.)