Most of my life, up to and including the days of university, I took most of the books I read out of the library because I just couldn’t afford to do otherwise. Then, as life became busier I found I was returning more and more of those books late and spending a small fortune on late fees. The cost of those fines, combined with my desire to have those books on my bookshelf, led me to think perhaps I should just own the book. Solves both problems, right?
The problem is that I became an incurable book buyer. (Also, I have worked at two publishing houses – one as an intern, and one as part of my career.) Because of this, I now have many bookshelves that are (over)stuffed with books. If I add up what I’ve spent on books – well, it gets a wee bit frightening. Something about putting a child through college. Between the money spent on books, and the lack of shelf space (and the possibility of needing to reinforce the floor with steel beams to support the extra weight), I realized I needed to make a change.
So last year I committed to re-engaging with the library. I started slowly, using the library in my home town. Then I discovered that the library in my home town really wasn’t very useful, such as only carrying the third book in a series. After a quick review of the policies, I found to my delight that I was still entitled to a Toronto Public Library membership. I renewed my membership, and I’ve been happily taking out books since.
Right now I have quite the haul. Some of the titles I currently have out are:
- The Abstinence Teacher – Tom Perrotta
- The Story of a Widow – Musharraf Ali Farooqi
- Nikolski – Nicolas Dickner
- Lauchlin of the Bad Heart – D. R. MacDonald
- Secrets to Happiness – Sarah Dunn
- Good to a Fault – Marina Endicott
- The Origin of Species – Nino Ricci
- The Great Karoo – Fred Stenson
- The Outlander – Gil Adamson
- Cutting for Stone – Abraham Verghese
- Traveling with Pomegranates – Sue Monk Kidd, Ann Kidd Taylor
- The Sister – Poppy Adams
(Clearly, I’m on a Can-lit kick.)
One of the things I’ve been enjoying most about the library is the lack of guilt I now feel if I choose not to finish a book. I started The Sister by Poppy Adams, a sort-of gothic novel of two sisters, and found I wasn’t enjoying it one bit. Thirty pages later and back in the bag it goes. No need to finish the book out of a sense of obligation to the money I’ve spent on it. No shelf space sacrificed to a less-than-deserving book. No guilt at all.
It’s also solving the dilemma I have frequently faced with books that I want to read but know up front that I’ll likely never read again, such as Secrets to Happiness by Sarah Dunn. Now I happily borrow those books, I revel in the fluff, and I don’t give a moment’s worry to precious shelf space lost.
Then there is the simple variety of books I can take out of the library. Where I might feel guilt about buying three books in a single day, with the library I can take out five, even ten books in a single day without batting an eye. For the insatiable book lover, who needs books as much as she needs air, and wants to surround herself in books, this is a very good thing indeed.
However, where I run into difficulties is with those books that I read and love – for example, Galore was a library book. Do I go and buy a copy for home? How do I now justify spending the money on a book I’ve already read? What do others do? Oh, the dilemma!
I haven’t entirely cured my book-buying (although, I haven’t purchased a book since December. A record in recent years!) but I’m definitely a recovering addict. I still return books late to the library, but even there I have become a little more diligent. And the fines are a small price indeed, for the company of those many books.