A few weeks ago, I announced my intention to take a break from acquiring new reading material in the month of November – no buying books, borrowing books, accepting free books… etc, etc. If you like, you can read my reasoning in full here, but it pretty much boiled down to me realising that I had become a book glutton, and being disappointed and embarrassed at how far removed this behaviour is from my attitude to materialism and consumption. I realised that acquiring books had become as important to me as reading and enjoying books, and that my rate of acquisition vastly outstripped my rate of reading and enjoying. So, this month has been about getting back in balance.
I’ve mentioned before that I work in a bookshop, so temptation to break my intention lurks around every corner. In fact, lurks is the wrong word. Temptation wears an oversized Spongebob Squarepants costume festooned with Christmas lights, and dances a polka while smoking a cigar and fondling itself inappropriately right in front of me all day long. Hard to miss. Going into this, I was expecting things to descend pretty rapidly into the detoxing scene in Trainspotting. You know, sweats and tears and dead babies on the ceiling. I was surprised to find, then, that I felt peace rather than deprivation.
My desire to buy came and went, and I found it surprisingly easy to sit with those feelings without acting upon them. I made a list throughout the month of books that I might want to revisit once the ban is over, and now that is it, there isn’t much I’m desperate to run out and buy. Once that initial, chemical propulsion towards a new object has exerted itself, there isn’t much left. The blush of new acquisition, and the pressure and guilt about my new possessions that usually followed it, were replaced by a sensation of calm. A feeling of spaciousness, expansiveness. My constant browsing was set aside and replaced with actual reading, and I was pleased to find myself able to pay greater attention to the book in my hand, not distracted by the pressure of what to read next. It was a fresh pleasure to pull long-neglected titles from my own bookshelves and make time for them, instead of constantly looking for something to own outside of my own collection.
Today, the 1st of December, I gave myself a free pass to buy any of the books on my list that I desired. I looked over it and found I didn’t really need any of them, nor did I want to go crazy with shopping right away. I wound up buying two titles – the new Gayle Forman (one of my favourite romance writers for teenagers), which was released in early November, and Thornyhold by Mary Stewart (a recommendation from a friend). I was also tempted by The Greenlanders by Jane Smiley, but I thought that the pre-Christmas rush probably wasn’t the best circumstance to enjoy an 800-page saga about subsistance farmers in medieval Greenland. Old me would’ve just bought it and put it aside for later (years later, probably), but post-November me left it on the shop’s shelf, knowing when I’m really ready to read it, it’ll be there waiting for me. Maybe in January, maybe not.
Given that I gained so much peace of mind from this experiment, I’m going to carry it on for the month of December. No new books. Easy peasy. In fact, because I was surprised about how easy I found it, I’ve decided to extend the challenge. No discretionary purchases at all until 2014. I’ve learned that I can live without new books, and in fact live better without new books, and I believe that I can also cope without new clothes, new ink for my fountain pen, new essential oil blends from Perfect Potion (my wallet’s achilles heel). I am enough in and of myself. I don’t need to buy stuff to increase my sense of worth, scratch an itch, cure my boredom, or bolster my self esteem. I am lucky to have so, so much already, and it is only by stemming the tide of new things that I can truly see and value how much I have. How liberating! I’m looking forward to it.