Buying Books and Never Reading Them

Posted by @ 11:00 am on September 19th, 2013

You buy a lot of books. That’s okay. Admit it. I have. It’s a good thing until you realize that you have over half of the books you buy end up on a bookshelf unread. Still, it’s okay, really. It is far better to buy books than overly expensive videogames, random Home Depot impulse binges, and, umm, stuff like Hummel figurines. Plenty of people spend their money buying and collecting all sorts of consumer products. We should be proud that our impulse buy item is a well-designed and intriguing new book. That new book smell… oh man.

Indeed, it might be a problem but thankfully we are not alone. In Japan, it’s gotten to a point where a term as been defined to embrace the phenomenon. Tsundoku, as in the act of buying and letting books pile up in various areas of your domicile where they become more a means of decoration. Maybe that’s not what we really intend on doing when we buy a handful of books at a local bookstore, buy another handful at a used bookstore, and finish it off with a few Amazon purchases, but we are certainly working towards a decorative sculpture of unread literature.

Having a name for the book-buying impulse definitely helps but there are also plenty of other reasons to continue indulging in the act of buying books with no immediate intention of reading them. I have composed a list of ego-stabilizing reasons to continue tapping into that inner bibliophile despite the fact that, oh, I don’t know, maybe half or more of your bookshelves consist of books that you’ve barely begun to read. Consider these coping strategies.



*You support the book.

This is the age of technology seeping into an industry normally oblivious to all those 1s and 0s. By buying the book, you are buying the book. It is full of pages, has a spine, and a cover that resonates that beauty. Holding it in your hands feels a whole lot like a book whereas an eReader feels a whole lot like holding a screen made to imitate. You buy the physical book, you own the best version.

*You are buying art.

How many books have you wanted to buy just because that book cover looked beautiful? Well, if you buy a book for its cover, you are essentially buying into a piece of art. Don’t discount the words between the covers but the cover is often a pivotal part of the book and, more often than not, the cover is given little to no notice despite its effective draw for consumers.

*You are buying upwards of 60,000 words or more per novel.

That’s a lot of words. Imagine how many clicks of the keyboard it would translate to and plenty more effort if the author maintains use of a typewriter. The author laid out so many sentences that you could easily assume that each sentence led to a different avenue of thought. So many words don’t just end up on the page without the effort of each press of the key. To press the key, think about what gave the author motivation. It is different for every single writer but it’s enough to give solace in the fact that you bought their latest book. You bought their book. A “thank you” might be in order.

*You are starting a chain of ownership.

With the purchase of a book, you are knowingly taking part in the daisy-chain lifecycle of a book. After the book outlasts its time with its initial owner, it will be sold to a used book store or Goodwill to be recovered by another bibliophile. The book is owned for a period of time only to end up with another dealer and, subsequently, another owner. By buying a book brand new from its publisher and/or bookstore, you are engaging this ongoing lifecycle.

*You support the press.

Much like the author, buying a brand new book supports the efforts of the author’s publisher. There is a lot of work that goes into making that book look so very nice to eyes and to the touch. The publisher goes out of its way to make the book meet those expectations while also making sure that the book treats its author well with positive sales. You bought the book. You are doing your part.

*You can always give books away as gifts.

That book you bought a couple months ago looked and felt great and you loved flipping through it before placing it on your shelf. Well, the book that seemed to win you over might just gain its first true life, a real read, with a friend’s birthday. You are giving a friend a really good book for their birthday. That means something. Beyond all the trendy gifts, your book will end up on their bedside and in their thoughts as they pick away at it, chapter by chapter.

*You might meet the author someday.

A fickle but true one – if you end up finding out that the author is in town and you already own the book, you can jump right to the line and get that sucker signed. If you really care for having a signed book. Either way, owning the book beforehand means you instantly gain your chance to meet the author and in more ways than one that’s worth the initial purchase.

*You might find inspiration.

You own so many books and yet you can’t help but stop at a random bookshelf, pick up a book, and flip through its pages. If you let it, you’ll get stuck on one of those pages and you’ll begin to read. If you give it a few pages, you just might gain some inspiration to move forward with your own creative projects. A single sequence of words can do so much; give it a page or two and you just might remember why you bought the book in the first place.

*You support the author.

What might be so very obvious but consistently understated: You bought the author’s book. You purchased the authors book. That still means a lot. Especially today, when every sale dictates whether or not the author will get another chance to publish a book with a press; you are supporting the author’s writing. It would be great if you read what the author wrote but maybe, just maybe, your heart is in the right place and you wanted to read what you bought. Either way, the purchasing of a book at retail is a big enough deal to warrant you your spastic tsundoku qualities.


Buy to your heart’s content. Just know that with every book exists an author’s hard-earned effort to be heard. Let those books live on in some way and our bibliophile ways isn’t that big of a problem. We buy books. We buy more books than we could ever read. And that might be okay as long as we let those books live their lives.


Michael J Seidlinger is the author of MY PET SERIAL KILLER and THE LAUGHTER OF STRANGERS, forthcoming from Lazy Fascist Press in November 2013. He owns and operates the small press Civil Coping Mechanisms.

Tags: ,