To buy or not to buy: a book

Boy, did John Kelly open a floodgate of memories and monsters with his comment in his column a few weeks ago: “When you get right down to it, which would you rather be without: a library card or a credit card? I know which one gets me into more trouble.”

The memories: Holding Dad’s hand as we stood at the children’s desk on my 5th birthday, the magic age that got me my very own card. Earning my first real money as a page (a whopping 85 cents an hour) in the same children’s room.  The scores of books that were my personal escape hatch to the world beyond my hometown. The day I realized I could never fall in love with someone who doesn’t love the library as much as I do.

The monsters: When I went to work in the big city, I abandoned the public library, flexing the power of my dollars (I got a raise from my page days) by purchasing books instead.  I reconsidered that path the day the New York Public Library became my client, which was thankfully about the time I ran out of shelf space in my small apartment.  But is there a permanent cure for a book lover with a credit card?

Now, I have just more choices and new decisions when I need a fix. There’s an electronic reader in my life – a gift my sister insisted on for a milestone birthday.  I would have said “no,” but I hate to admit that she was right as usual.  I won’t give it back.  Now I don’t even have to take my credit card out of my wallet to make a purchase — just hit “shop in store,” anywhere, any time.

I still crave books on paper, and I still buy them.  But not until I’ve first borrowed them from the library and decided I really want to own them, unless, well…  let’s face it, I persist in many exceptions to that rule. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t have been so devastated by Barnes & Noble closing my Lincoln Center, NY store!

To deal with the temptation, I’ve tried to develop rules for book purchases. Here is my evolving list:

  • The title must be on my “want to read” list for at least 8 weeks;
  • The book cannot be available (or on the “being purchased” list) from my local library branch;
  • I can purchase it if I have to go through the state interlibrary loan system;
  • I must use legitimately given gift cards (not ones I buy for myself) to load up my e-book purchase account;
  • I cannot buy any more e-books until I have read the seven that I have loaded now.  Two down, five to go.

Do these rules solve my borrow/purchase hard copy/electronic copy conflict?  Not entirely, but they slow me down enough to think about some other factors: where will I read it (on a trip, weight restrictions), or put it (my cookbooks were caught in a flood – don’t even ask how that happened), or get more value out of it than just my own read (it makes me crazy that I can’t “loan” my e books. Didn’t paying for them make them mine to lend?).

The list does help, but can someone please help me with this: the very same issue of the Washington Post that informed me September is Library Card Sign Up Month includes Michael Dirda’s review of Helen Vendler’s new book: “Dickinson: Selected Poems and Commentaries.”  I am itching to visit the e-bookstore “just to check the price.”  Or do I really need to own it on paper so that I can write in it?  Of course, the library’s closed til morning.