Monday, August 30, 2010

Guilt Strikes After A Trip to Half-Price Books

Last week, I wrote about the perception of writing being a passive profession. When I was down in the Twin Cities on my last days off, it occurred to me that writing is also a guilty profession. No matter what you’re doing, from working on a project to buying books, there always seems to be something imperfect about our “writer-ly” approaches. It seems being a “writer” involves carrying around a little bag of neuroses and misconceptions at all times.

It probably comes as no surprise that I’m a fan of bookstores. (Honestly, would you trust me as an English major if I wasn’t? Although to be fair, I generally mistrust anyone who’s not a bookstore fan, regardless of their educational background. . . . ) I may have problems maintaining an appropriate wardrobe, but I have no problem buying books and I resist parting with any of my books, even when I’m fairly sure I’ll never look at some of them again. I have yet to move my books out of my parents’ house (we don’t have the room for them) and sometimes I like to go up to my childhood bedroom to admire all the pretty, multicolored volumes lining my bookshelves, and spilling into the “overflow” shelving of my floor. It’s only when I think of how I’ve bought so many of my books that I start feeling those little twinges of guilt in my belly.

As an aspiring novelist, there’s that teeny little part of me that tells me, really, I should only be buying the hardcover, full-priced versions of the books I want to read. After all, if I have a book published, do I want people to wait until they can buy my book for a penny on Amazon or grab a severely discounted copy at Half-Price Books? Publishing a book in this day and age is no guarantee of fame and it’s certainly no guarantee for fortune. E-books have publishers turned all topsy-turvy and there have been some rather startling reports on just how little money is made when you have a moderately successful book published. Indeed, the monetary success of Harry Potter was an anomaly.  (And remember, how none of us waited until the Harry Potter cost a penny: we all “pre-bought” the latest hardcover version before its release date.)

So how do I explain my presence in Half-Price Books last Wednesday? They say in America you vote with your wallet, which really means I should be strolling through independent books stores and not box stores that start with a “B.” I’ll bet you anything that the big box stores aren’t going to be the ones gambling on a first release from an unknown author if I’m published.

Yet as a voracious reader and someone on the cusp of middle class, I simply don’t have the budget to buy all the books I want to read in a year at full price. And living 55 miles outside of town, I just haven’t gotten the whole library thing work very well for me lately.

So the cheaply bought books accumulate on my shelves. Guilty as I may feel about how I got the books, there’s always one saving grace: at least I’m still reading.

2 comments:

  1. I've actually contemplated taking the train to Chicago to go to the nearest HPB. I know *exactly* what you're talking about!

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  2. Don't feel guilty shopping at HPB!!! They treat their employees AMAZZZZINGGG (full healthcare, life insurance, splendid vacation days and 401k... not to mention they hire tattooed and pierced folk/don't discriminate), work towards preventing book bans, donate millions of books to schools and have their own publishing/distro company! Yea, it doesn't help an author to buy the books secondhand, but it helps the environment and the general culture of books and media! (I work there, so I am exceptionally biased ;) ) Most of our employees are writers, artists and musicians.

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