Sunday, May 29, 2022

When it's time to turn the page on book-buying

Photographs by Prashant C. Trikannad

About a month ago, I found myself among books (not my own) for the first time since March 2020. I visited a Books by Weight exhibition hosted by Butterfly Books of Mumbai, and in a rare instance of self-restraint, left empty-handed. It's not that I didn't find good books. It's just that I didn't feel like buying any. I wonder if working from home for two years (and even now in a hybrid setting) might have had something to do with it. Barring evening walks, an occasional social visit and grocery shopping in the neighbourhood, I'd hardly been out until that day.

I was also aware at the time that there was no point in adding to my collection of books, many still to be read. Only last November my wife and I gave away over a hundred paperbacks and I'd no intention of replacing those with a new lot that would probably remain unread for months and years.

As I grow older, though not necessarily wiser, I'm more convinced that it's time to own fewer things and actually use those things. And that goes for books too—read and give away. As my wife said to me one evening, "What are you finally going to do with all your books? It's time to move on." She'd a point: it wasn't as if I'd a treasure chest of rare and valuable books, not counting a few out-of-print western paperbacks and some others with swell covers. I think what she also meant was that I needed to grow out of this irresistible urge to buy and hoard books. There was a time for it and that time had passed.  

We both still have many books, I more than she. I'm also still holding on to my comic-books, some of which are quite old. I don't know what I'm going to do with them once I retire a few years from now. Paper has a shelf life too. So these days I mostly read ebooks on my Kindle and an 11-inch Motorola tab. Both the devices are reader friendly, convenient and a space saver where paper books are concerned. No doubt, books have a charm that ebooks can never replicate, but I have to be practical and draw the line between the two, maybe 70% ebooks and 30% paper books.

I'll still buy the odd paperback from secondhand bookshops and book exhibitions, but that would depend on what I find and then again only after I ask myself, "Is it really worth buying the book? Wouldn't a Kindle edition do just as well?" The answer to those questions will henceforth shape my book-buying habits. Having fewer books doesn't mean reading less.

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