I tried to make a deal with the devil the other night. “I will not buy another new piece of clothing for the rest of my life if I can buy all the books I want,” I offered with high hopes as I walked the shelves of Hub City Bookshop. Later, my boyfriend reminded me I couldn’t afford to buy new clothes and hadn’t for many months. I have three wearable pairs of socks. My ban on new clothes would be mostly symbolic. The exchange wouldn’t amount to more than $20 in books. I guess I could buy a new paperback.
This wasn’t my first plot to buy new books. Sometimes while I work at the bookshop, I run my fingers along spines. “I would give up chocolate,” I think. “I would take up running as a hobby.” The devil has yet to accept my offer.
It is true that one of my most favorite bookshop tasks is familiarizing myself with the inventory. I take slow steps through the bookshop, my head tilted to read all the spines. I pull books with good titles and read the first few pages. I sometimes use my GoodReads app to scan the barcodes, to add books to my “Want to Read” shelf.
I have only one real bookshelf at home. I took it from my parents’ basement when I visited on Labor Day weekend. The top is covered in skateboarding stickers from my brother’s teenage days at the neighborhood skate park. The back is starting to decay and makes the whole bookshelf tilt backward into the wall. Whenever I push it, bits of particleboard crumble over the carpet. I’ve covered the skateboarding stickers with seashells, my camera, an old wooden box my mom gave me a few years ago, an orchid from IKEA, and a French cookbook. I wonder sometimes if these items could possibly make the bookshelf’s tilt worse than it was at the start.
My bookshelf can’t hold all the books I want it to, and I think this might contribute to the tilt more than my IKEA orchid or seashells. I organized it earlier this fall. One shelf for English fiction and another for English nonfiction, a third for English reference books. I gave half of the reference shelf to French literature, but those books had to be stacked on their side. In the past month or two, I’ve had to pile more books in on their sides. Two baskets under the coffee table hold more books which I rotate through the bookshelf when I can. So goes the life of books when their owner is on a budget.
I used to read on my iPad. When I lived in Clermont-Ferrand, this was the cheapest, easiest way for me to get my hands on English language books. And I could travel easily with my books. But when I came back to the United States, I started buying more used books–impossible when you only use an e-reader like an iPad. I noticed that the headaches I’d been having came with less frequency when I read books made of paper. The New York Times, I was comforted to learn, says I’m not alone in my switch from e-readers back to paper.
I read more, I’ve realized, when I buy books I can carry around with me. It’s something about their physical presence that reminds me to read. They stare at me, those real books, and beg me to keep reading. I can see where I am in my book and I can feel my progress. Real books, I think, are more encouraging than their digital peers.
Or maybe it has something to do with working in a bookshop where I’m surrounded by real books. Whatever. I have less stake in the print v.s digital argument than I do in my personal dilemma: I have a groaning, dying bookshelf and impending travel plans with limited suitcase space, and yet, I want more books.
A man came into the bookshop a few weeks ago and bought big piles of books. I recommended one to him and after I spoke just 15 selling words, he added it to his stack. “At this point, the books are just decoration,” he said. “I have more than I could read in a lifetime.” Perhaps–as my boyfriend indicated when I told this story–I should have been disgusted by the excess. Why keep buying books when you already have more than you could ever read? Why not spend that money on more noble causes?
Instead, I was giddy. “That could be us someday,” I concluded with a hopeful smile. Perhaps I still have much to learn about the world. Perhaps I need to take a lesson in frugality and simplicity. Perhaps there’s a book I could buy and read on the subject.
In the meantime, I’ve made an early Christmas List with the books I can only wish to give or receive this holiday season (giving books brings me just as much joy as buying them for myself and I like to think this makes me a less greedy person). Some of these books I’ve read and loved. Others are books I’ve sold or touched at Hub City Bookshop. I don’t–for whatever reason–have any of them in real book format. I keep a running list in my bag and add books to it when I walk around the shop.
I have no hope of receiving these books for Christmas. Things like wool socks and new pens and food rank higher on my Christmas list than more books. Perhaps this is a sign that my deal with the devil wouldn’t have worked out. So, I share this list in the hopes that someone else will be able to benefit from it.
Kelsey’s Christmas Book Hopes
- Hemingway in Love — I read this one pretty recently. It’s beautiful and fascinating. I’ve been thinking about it since I opened the cover.
- Reporting Always: Writings from the New Yorker — I read about Lillian Ross in the New Yorker a week or two ago and have been dying to get my hands on this book since.
- The Other Paris — My Hemingway interest has a lot to do with the years he spent in Paris in the 1920s. This book is all about that period. I flipped through it and wanted it right away.
- Drinking in America — Susan Cheever wrote recently about how researching in bookshops helped her write this book. I’m interested because of that, but also because the subject is so great.
- Submission — I finished this book on Saturday. It’s hugely controversial in France and that’s why I read it. I’ll be tracking the French version down when I get back to France this spring.
- The Art of Memoir — Mary Karr is super cool and this book is really wonderful. I want it for my tilting bookshelf.
- Circling the Sun — I first saw this book in an airport shop and wanted it because I read Paula McLain’s The Paris Wife a while ago and loved it (goes with the Hemingway thing). I still want this book.
- The Sun Also Rises — It’s embarrassing that I don’t have my own hard copy of this book. My digital copy comes everywhere with me, but I want a real one. Badly.
- A Moveable Feast — Same goes here. A life changing book.
- Not That Kind of Girl — I’ve wanted to read Lena Dunham’s book for a while because I think she’s interesting and also because I’ve heard such good things about it.
- The Language of Food — I love language. Reading books on linguistics is a guilty pleasure. I found this one at Hub City and think it would be a good travel read.
- The Seven Storey Mountain — A dear friend recommended this book a while ago and I’ve yet to find it. Where is it? I want a copy.
- The Art of Asking — Amanda Palmer and her TED Talk inspired my Hatchfund project (3 days left!). So, of course, I want the book.
- Down and Out in Paris and London — The Hub City writer-in-residence listed this as one of his recommended books and I wondered why I hadn’t read it yet. On the list it went.
- The Only Street in Paris — An American writes about life on her Paris street. Why wouldn’t I want to read this?
- French Lessons — I read this Alice Kaplan book last year in the library. She captured perfectionism in language absolutely perfectly.
- All the Light We Cannot See — This is the book that inspired a trip to Saint-Malo in 2014 and can therefore be seen as the spark to my research and residency. I have a digital copy, but oh, do I want a hardback.
And the primo item on my Christmas list is more time for reading and researching and writing at La Porte Peinte this spring. So that’s my list as of November 9, 2015. Three days remain to fund my project (please!), but many more remain for the growth of my book list. Stay tuned.