Book Karma and the Dread To Be Read Shelf

Enid Blyton, Queen of Books

Since Alisa is making book confessions over at her blog, it’s probably time that I made some of my own.

It’s the National Year of Reading here in Australia, and my one big reading challenge to myself is to buy fewer books. Which is quite a confronting thing to talk about publicly, because, well, I do rather spend a lot of my time online convincing other people to buy books, even if only a minority of them turn out to be my own. I am a book pusher. Listeners of Galactic Suburbia know this to be true!

But my teetering To Read bookcase is currently unsustainable, and my quest this year is to bring my book purchases (which are still flying on my pre-children reading abilities) more closely in line with how many books I am capable of reading. So for the National Year of Reading, I’m trying to read the books I ALREADY HAVE.

So my system is that I am only allowed to buy one book for every three that I read, and two of those three have to be from the physical To Read shelf as opposed to, say, my whopping bag of Agatha Christies, or my books for research shelf, or something from my greater library, or actual library books. I first stated these intentions here.

How am I doing, three months in? Not as well as I’d secretly hoped. Accidentally buying a pack of three Agatha Christies in the post office back in January did rather send the system into a tailspin which took some time to recover from.

I have restrained my book purchasing in 2012 to 9 books (not counting graphic novels, which I don’t have trouble reading through quickly, and Kindle books, because storage is not an issue there, and audio books because, audio books). But I only have one book purchase ‘banked’ (as in I can buy one more without reading any) and the list of books I desperately want is growing and becoming more urgent as new releases pour out of the world. I WANT the new Holly Black and the new Alison Bechdel, and a bunch of anthologies, and the new Cassandra Clare, and the next Kate Elliot (because OMG) and the new novelisation of Shada, and a bunch of Bernice Summerfields, and and and… And apparently I can’t restrict myself to last year’s books because I want to be the person reading the BRAND NEW SHINY and telling you all about it before you’ve heard about it. Sigh.

So thank goodness for my system, because it does check me and make sure that I only buy the books that I desperately, desperately want, instead of the ones I quite want. When I need a book for research I check the library system BEFORE going to buy straight away. And I do now seriously think ‘will I want to keep, lend, reread this book’ before every hard copy purchase, which is probably good for me. The house has not yet burst with books like that time in the Goodies that foam poured out of all the windows.


I feel guilty about it. Even though my book purchases are still quite high compared to many people, and my quest to read books I already own seems a reasonable one, I feel guilty talking about it publicly because, well. Surely if I slow down on my book purchases, I can’t expect other people to buy my book? It feels like I might be messing with book karma. Though that does raise the disturbing possibility that somehow I have been buying books madly and compulsively for the last decade as some form of complicated and expensive magic spell that would likewise encourage people to buy my book in the same fashion. Which seems unlikely. I didn’t even have books AVAILABLE to buy during my book buying peak. And if I was doing that for that reason, even subconsciously… well, all the more reason to buy my books thoughtfully.

Sure, I want to earn a living at this, but I don’t want my books to be languishing on people’s To Read Shelves of Doom because they bought them in haste! Some of the happiest feedback I have received from people is the last year is when they tell me they are RE-READING my books. I have so little time to read, re-reading is one of my high end pure luxuries, and for people to devote that kind of luxury attention to my books makes me giddy and delighted.

The moral of the story is that I need to budget more actual time towards reading. Which I already knew. And possibly that I overthink everything, even my reading habits. THIS IS ALSO NOT NEWS TO ME.

So for this year, the National Year of Reading, I’m going to try to read what I have, and be very selective about what I buy. Because, as it turns out, while newly minted books are fresh and exciting, it’s also pretty damn special to read a fabulous book that was published one or two or five or ten years ago and to think ‘OMG, why did I wait so long?’

4 replies on “Book Karma and the Dread To Be Read Shelf”

  1. Melander says:

    NINE per (this) annum?
    Oh, Tansy, surely not.
    I had the same plan, ie read the to be read shelf first…. Only bookshops I walk past just have these Nordic Noirs on sale…. and people will insist on publishing books and having launches and the social must-ness just de-rails everything.

  2. Helen Merrick says:

    I too am trying to have a ‘buy no… ummm well very few books’ year. Mainly because of, you know, MOVING STATES fairly soon.

    I think Ive bought about 10 books so far this year. And nearly all of them have been Australian. I don’t seem to have the same problem with a groaning to-read shelf. Even when I’m in manic book buying mode, it is very rare for me to have more than say 10 books waiting to be read. At the moment its about 7. When I’m down to about 2 I will panic (PANIC!!) and race to the library to get something, anything, to have on hand. Because, obviously I cannot run out of things to read because that would be scary.

    So my approach – I want to support our local authors and publishers, so I will buy the new Margo, the new Jo Anderton (and of course the new Tansy!), as well as stuff from 12th planet and Fablecroft. This is important not just because it is less likely our Aussie authors will have big markets overseas, but also they are less likely (apart from Margo) to be in the library. Whereas the latest-ish Libba Bray, Holly Black etc WILL be in the library. So this is my plan.

    I’ve broken it three times already. I got Jo Walton’s Among Others, because, you know I had to as i hadn’t read it yet. I might also have given in to Seanan McGuire’s new series, because new Seanan! And ok, Nancy Kress’s new book because it looked amazing and has sideline relevance for some of my research. Ahem.

    Anyways, I don’t think you should feel at all worried about any disconnect between your buying patterns and your book-pushing habits. Lets face it, over the last 10 years you’ve probably bought enough books to justify book-pushing for quite a while yet 🙂

  3. tansyrr says:

    Most of the books I have bought have also been of the ‘support my friends’ variety, and I totally broke this rule (guideline!) for the new Seanan as well. Apart from when I tripped and fell on that tempting 3-pack of Agatha Christies, only to get home and go OH BUGGER, that’s 9 I have to read…

    Running out of books was a big issue for me most of my life, and it’s only since my children and, well, the internet that it has gone the other way, with TOO MANY books. I felt so rebellious last time we visited Finchy’s parents, because I only took two books with me. Plus, you know, the Kindle and the iPad. But ooh, scary, only two books. I read ONE. Usually I put in extras and extras because I am still traumatised by the time I went to Rome with only 4 books and ended up reading a film guide for several nights in a row, and had to frequent a seedy but enticing ‘books traded’ shop to get more books in English at all. Oh, BOOKS, never leave me!

    I’m sure once the kids are older I will be finding a lot more reading time, but I have to say, reading the internet has probably had the greatest effect on my day’s schedule. I do love it soooo.

  4. […] You’ve given me lots to think about. I also loved Tansy’s post which it sparked – Book Karma and the To Be Read Shelf. She covers lots of things that I was wanting to get to, after my first confession. I like the idea […]

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