The Book Diet by Sara Veal
24 January 2013
Like so many others at the beginning of a new year, I've decided it's time to streamline and become a better me. But I won't be counting calories or substituting fat-free imitations for my favourite foods. Instead, I am going on a Book Diet. For the entirety of 2013, I will not buy a single book.
My proclamation has prompted some puzzlement. After all, I work in publishing. In sales. Not buying books seems hypocritical, akin to a vegan becoming a butcher (or vice versa.) I don't disagree. If everyone stopped buying books (and sometimes it seems like they have), I'd be out of a job. But it's time for a change, and change can call for cuckoo behaviour.
This literary detox was spurred by a single word: tsundoku. According to the Other-Wordly tumblr, it's a Japanese noun that means 'buying books and not reading them; letting books pile up unread on shelves or floors or nightstands'.
There was a time when my hunger for books could not be sated at the pace at which I read them - a byproduct of living in bookshop-stricken countries. But I've since become a repeat tsundoku offender. Amazon is mainly to blame, effortlessly feeding and stoking my addiction to book acquisition as I 'save for later' everything that captures my interest and then snap them up when the price dips a pound or two.
And, of course, I get so many stories for free through work. It's gotten to the stage where I will always have something to read, even if I never spend another penny on the written word.
All these riches have left me feeling listless and entitled. I still love books, but I don't quite feel about them as I used to. I don't get the same burst of pleasure when someone gives me one as a present, or I come across one that I'd like to read. I borrow books as a polite gesture more than anything else, often thinking that it would be easier to buy my own copy and then never worry about returning it.
Recently, David Nicholls has eloquently described what I want to achieve with this Book Diet. Although I want to spend less, I want to read more; I want to rediscover the simultaneously pure and complicated delights of reading. I want to re-learn to think outside the Amazon shopping basket. Last year I spent £400 on books via Amazon (much less than I thought, actually), but I've only read a quarter of those books. I want to treat the act of reading and acquiring books with the respect I used to. I want to slow down and find time to go real bookshops with an open mind instead of just heading over to Amazon for the satisfaction of a fleeting lust. That's one of the problems with Amazon: the behemoth can certainly sell books, but it encourages the idea that you should pay as little as possible for it and with as little thought as possible too. The intimate brief encounters Emylia Hall describes are exactly what I’ve been missing out on with my gotta-have-it-now Amazon mindset.
Like any other dieter, less than a month into the new regime, I've faced temptation and had to find ways to stay on my chosen course. I'm using Goodreads as a place to catalogue the books I want to read, rather than my Amazon basket (Goodreads is nifty, isn’t it? I know, I know, I’m six years late to the party). I tell myself that 2013 is going to be a difficult year for self-deprivation. Margaret Atwood's 'Maddaddam' will be especially hard to resist. And I keep coming across new authors that sound too good to miss. So I've taken to informing friends of books I'm interested in, encouraging them to buy them, then getting first dibs on borrowing.
Is making other people buy the books I want to read cheating? Maybe. I’d prefer to think of it as a creative way of keeping the book industry afloat while I take a temporary and well-intentioned break from, you know, paying for stuff.