Reflections

Making Choices Because I Can

I own too many books. The small bookshelf in my apartment can’t hold all of the books I brought with me to Philadelphia, let alone the books I’ve purchased since I moved (less than three months ago). I may have a smaller TBR than some book bloggers, but I know that I have a pretty massive TBR.

Of course, I have considered book buying bans, but like many book bloggers I have little self-control 😉 I donate books I’ve read but do not plan to reread, but my unread to read ratio is way too high.

I have started to think about the reasons why I purchase so many books. Usually, I buy my books used. I simply can’t pass up a bargain, especially when the work is in French. And then there are all the books that bloggers and booktubers recommend. I add the books to Goodreads, and even though I already own too many unread books, I convince myself that I want to read those newly-added books right away. I am not even sure why I don’t use my university’s research library. It has just about every well-written/highly-acclaimed book ever written.

Even though the books I’m interested in aren’t about to go out of print, I convince myself that I want to read them right away when I don’t. Even with many options at my fingertips, I can’t have enough.

My book buying experience has inspired me to think of my habits in other aspects of my life. It has also made me consider the way humans make choices in general. It seems to me that the more choices we have available to us, the harder it is to be satisfied with past choices.

Every morning, I buy coffee at the university café. There are a few dozen options available, not including the number of possible flavored lattés. The larger a café’s menu, the stronger my desire to make different and new choices. Because I am used to having so many options available to me, I find it hard to stick with one type of drink. I want to try new drinks.

The more options I have, the more difficult it is for me to make a decision or to consistently make the same decision. I may own over a hundred unread books, but at the bookstore I encounter hundreds of books that tickle my fancy. I buy Life of Pi with all the intention in the world to read it in the next week, but then I see Room and reconsider my decision.

Buying is a decision in itself. My decision to buy a book is independent of my decision to read the book. So once I’ve made the decision to buy Life of Pi, my brain wants me to make a different choice because there are so many available. This, I believe, is the number one reason why so many of us fail at book buying bans (or any kind of purchase ban).

Choice is at the center of a capitalist society. Everywhere we look we are invited to make a choice. We are addicted to making choices because we can make choices. As long as the possibility is available to us, we want to make a new choice. We don’t really want the products that we choose. Not really. Otherwise, we would consume them right away. But the average American house contains over 100,000 items. We never use most of the items we own!

I have deceived myself into thinking that I buy books because I want to read them. In truth, I buy books because I am obsessed with buying books. I could borrow them from the research library, but I also borrow too many books from the library. Again, I am addicted to choosing new books.

Ironically, the more choices I make, the less free I feel. What does that say about freedom in a capitalist, consumer-driven society?

2 thoughts on “Making Choices Because I Can”

  1. Although I would never encourage anyone to get rid of the books they already own, this did remind me of an essay I read a while ago by Alec Waugh called ‘On Doing What One Likes’ (you can read it in full here: http://neglectedbooks.com/?p=1970).

    Waugh put into words something that I’ve been mulling over for a while now, which is that just because we’re interested in something doesn’t mean we have to pursue it (especially since bookish people and the intellectually inclined are interested in Everything). That book on the history of cotton looks fascinating because it’s a subject I know literally nothing about, but I also know that I’m never going to study that topic in depth and that it will only give me some fun party trivia. I would like to read every contemporary novel that is being talked about so I can join the conversation, but I might get more out of reading a novel that has influenced and inspired millions of people over the span of decades/centuries/millennia.

    I don’t think the problem is having options as much as the fact that along with each of those options comes someone who (intentionally or unintentionally) makes that option seem so damn appealing. Advertisers, friends, scholars, blurb-writers, travel-vloggers, everyone who has ever made a things-you-have-to-do-once-in-your-life list, (coffee)shop-owners etc. It’s hard to try and be constantly aware of who and what is influencing your decisions.

    1. So many people influence the decisions we make. But then I understand that books need to be advertised. I definitely do that from time to time on here. It’s hard to say no to immediate gratification, or at least to the possibility of immediate gratification.

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