Number Thirty: Abstaining From What?!

Two Fridays ago I woke up to my daily-deal e-mail from Amazon Kindle, and what do I see? An anthology edited by the inimitable Lawrence Block, entitled In Sunlight or In Shadow: Stories Inspired by the Paintings of Edward Hopper, priced at $1.99. Being I’ve had my eye on the book since it came out in December, it was a no-brainer: I bought it.

Later that day I went to a Barnes & Noble next to my workplace, looking for the most recent issue of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine (which has a couple of my favorite authors in it). I didn’t see the magazine, so I asked an employee if she knew when it would be coming in. She didn’t have that info, but told me about a bookstore called Once Upon a Crime that might have it in stock. Curiosity piqued – I’d never heard of that bookseller before – I hit the road to go find it. Upon arriving, I learned that they did not stock Ellery Queen (pisser). But, having found a new jewel in the rough, I walked around the store and bought two new books – Cut Me In by Ed McBain and Everything You Want Me to Be by Mindy Mejia.

Two days later, another daily-deal e-mail came from Amazon Kindle. This time? The first seven books in the Harry Bosch series by Michael Connelly were on sale. Having wanted to try the series for quite some time, I snagged a couple for $2.99 each.

See the pattern here?

As readers of my previous blog entries know, I like books. A lot. It’s not uncommon for me to buy books that are on sale or published by authors on my “must-buy” list, only to have them languish in a pile until I find the time to read them. This affliction is even tougher to get under control with e-books, which are deeply discounted at various times, making them a too-good-to-pass-up proposition.

I know I’m not alone in this pattern of stocking my library. I’ve frequented message boards for close to two decades now, and everyone jokes about their “tbr pile” (which stands for “to-be-read pile,” in book-nerd parlance). Did you know there’s an actual term for this behavior?

[Sounds like the number game from your newspaper’s variety section. It isn’t.]

Looking at my current inventory, this is what I found:

Physical books – After years of hoarding every book I’ve ever purchased — enough to fill dozens upon dozens of boxes in the basement — I broke free from my book hoarding and sold nearly all of my stock to Half-Price Books. I currently have a box with maybe fifty unread books in it.

iBooks – I’ve downloaded a total of 73 books, of which 48 are unread.

Kindle – I’ve downloaded a total of 234 books, of which 158 are unread.

Nook – I’ve downloaded a total of 241 books, of which 120 are unread.

So, all told, I have somewhere in the neighborhood of 376 unread books in my library. At my current pace of around 24 books per year, that means I could read for 15-16 years before I ran out of material to read. Silly, right?

Now, I should add that not all of these books cost money (I’m looking at *you*, lovely wife, in hopes that you don’t tear me limb from limb when you see this tally). In the early days of e-books, companies were giving away novels in order snag new readership (many of my Nook books are from that time). Also, there are times like Cyber Monday when publishers still do this. For instance, late last year a publisher named Open Road Media had something in the neighborhood of 1000 books that were free to download for a couple days. About half of my unread books on the Kindle app are from that “sale.” Of the ones that cost money, most were purchases in the $.99 – $2.99 range. Very few have been purchased at full price because, in the end, patience will always be rewarded.

We’re now almost 700 words into this essay, with no point having been made. I’m a virtuoso of blather, aren’t I?

In late 2010 I decided that enough was enough: it was time to start reading my backlog and stop buying more books. I proposed a crazy challenge for myself on my favorite message board, the Horror Drive-In: book-purchasing abstinence for a period of one year. During that time I would either read the books I already owned, or I would visit a library if I wanted something different. My declaration was met with kind-hearted jest.

“There’s no way you can make it that long!”

And, even more common, “Why would you even want to do that?!”

Amazingly I lasted from August 2010 through April 2011. I’m not sure why I caved in when I did. I purchased a couple of new books by Joe Abercrombie and Stephen King, but I really didn’t need them and didn’t read them when I got them anyway. It was a bummer when I had to report back to the group that I lost the bet eight months in, but I was also pretty proud that I’d made it as far as I did. Most weeks I’m buying a couple books at the minimum, so it showed some discipline on my part.

Six years later, it’s time to reinstate the challenge. With close to 400 books at my disposal you wouldn’t think this would be hard, but I’m already worrying over new and upcoming novels that I’ll be missing out on, such as the recent release of the third book in Greg IlesNatchez Burning trilogy, the upcoming Stephen/Owen King collaboration, and the long-lost Donald Westlake novel from Hard Case Crime. But that’s what makes the challenge so, uh, challenging. Temptation will be there, both in the form of new releases *and* silly-good deals on e-books, and the trick is in mastering the desire to one-click purchase an impulse buy for the sake of one more book on my virtual shelves.

[Unlike Kramer, I won’t be slapping my money on the counter and bellowing, “I’m out!”]

A couple of ground rules should be laid out. First, as before, I will honor any unpaid pre-orders that are already in existence. This time there’s only one I have to worry about: the audiobook version of the upcoming King/Chizmar novella, Gwendy’s Button Box. Also, I have prepaid subscriptions to a couple of comic-book services – Marvel Unlimited and ComiXology Unlimited – that will stay in place. Other than that, all new purchases from April 2017 through April 2018 are off the table. If I feel the need to try something other than what I own, then it’ll be off to the library with me.

Think I can do it? My wife is already scoffing; she knows me and my book-buying habits.

Me? There’s no doubt in my mind I can pull this off.

Well, maybe a little doubt.

Er. Um.


Until we meet again…



2 thoughts on “Number Thirty: Abstaining From What?!

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