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?

Children's/Coming-of-Age, Morley, Christopher

Review of Parnassus on Wheels by Christopher Morley

What was it about?

Helen McGill’s brother Andrew is at once a farmer and a famous author. Unfortunately, he doesn’t spend enough time caring for the farm, leaving most of the farm responsibilities as well as all of the housework to his sister. One day, while Andrew is out of town, Helen sees a wagon parked outside of the farmhouse. The wagon is filled with books, and the owner wants to sell it to Andrew for 400 dollars. Helen thinks Andrew owns enough books, and a wagon of books would only encourage him to neglect the farm more. After some negotiation, Helen offers to buy the wagon from the owner, Roger Mifflin. Mifflin has spent the last few years covering the region with his traveling bookshop Parnassus on Wheels. He intends to sell his business to someone who loves literature and who wants to share the love of reading with children and adults in the countryside. Helen accepts the challenge. Parnassus on Wheels by Christopher Morley is a short but delightful adventure about books, friendship, and life.

What did I think of it?

There is no better place to buy a book like Parnassus on Wheels than from a book sale. And that is where I bought my copy. Parnassus on Wheels is a fun book to read on a sunny day. Books and authors are referenced throughout, and Helen is a compelling protagonist. There could have been more of a discussion about the merits of literacy, and the literary references could have been more elegantly and subtly woven into the tale, but I was still satisfied by the story. Sometimes you have to read something light and fun. Parnassus on Wheels was that book.

Favorite Quote

“What absurd victims of contrary desires we are! If a man is settled in one place he yearns to wander; when he wanders he yearns to have a home. And yet how bestial is content—all the great things in life are done by discontented people.”

Miscellaneous

7 Storytelling Pet Peeves

Below are a few of my storytelling pet peeves:

1) When magic saves characters. If magic is a normal part of the world the author has created, magic rules should be explained and then not breached to save a character’s life.

2) When characters seemingly come back to life. Unless resurrection is a major theme in the story, characters should die when it is reasonable for them to do so. That is my greatest criticism of The Lord of the Rings. Gandalf should have died on the Bridge of Khazad-dûm.

3) When female characters are sweet, precious angels. I am speaking to YOU, Johanna Spyri (author of Heidi), Charles Dickens, and Eleanor Porter (author of Polyanna).

4) When there is religious stereotyping. As a Catholic, this irks me to no end. Not all priests are awful people. Not all monks are assassins. Not every historical fiction novel set in Medieval Europe needs to have lovely Catholic characters, but I have met a few good Catholic priests. They exist.

5) When the Virgin can’t wait to be “sexually liberated”. This bothers me a lot. I know that sex sells, and that people have sex, but once in a while I’d like to read a book in which a female or male character chooses to be or is OK with being celibate.

6) When the single or married (but always female) secretary becomes de facto a love interest. This bothers me because I see it as a misogynistic trope. Why are secretaries always hit on by their bosses? Why do authors assume that a secretary wants to get into her boss’s pants?  Why are secretaries always female? Geesh. This needs to stop.

7) When there are glaring historical inaccuracies in a historical fiction work. The word “historical” is in the name of the genre for a reason.

What are your storytelling pet peeves?