When we moved to Scotland a few years ago, my family arrived with a suitcase and a carry-on bag each. When we moved back to Prague two years later, I shipped back a ton and a half of books. I had far more books in storage in various places. I am a hoarder of books and an impulsive buyer of them. It used to be that if I was in a bookshop and I saw a book I thought was interesting I would buy it. I am the sort of person who dreads being stuck with nothing to read. All of my life I have carried a book with me everywhere to avoid that terrible fate. This has necessitated a constant supply of replacements for the current volume when it was finished.
These habits were set when I was a kid. I grew up in a small town in the West of Scotland where there was one John Menzies and a few paperback racks in the local newsagents. If I saw a book I liked I needed to buy it before it disappeared. I would not get another chance. As a consequence I grew up reading lots of second books in series before I read the first and I read a lot of series out of order.
This all set me up for impulse buying whenever I was in book shops. These habits were honed by decades of scouring second hand book stores for old books and compounded by being a long term expat in a place where English language book stores were rare. When I was in a place where I could buy books I bought them in bulk.There was always this fierce need to acquire books RIGHT NOW. As a consequence I have ended up with huge piles of books to be read and sometimes never read. There are volumes which have sat on my shelves for decades and which I still have not got round to reading.
Recently, this has changed. I blame the Kindle. I do most of my reading on it these days, pretty much all of my reading of new books. In paper I read only the stuff BL sends to me and old favourites on my shelf I feel the need to revisit. Even there, I read most of the classics like Dickens and Tolstoy in ebook form. I carry their complete works with me everywhere either on my phone or on my Kindle.
I noticed the change a few days ago. I was reading Len Deighton’s Bernard Samson books which I have fond memories of from the 80’s. I was buying them one at a time, downloading them and reading them. I do the same with fantasy series now. Once, if I was on a series reading kick I would have bought all the books at once. Now I buy them as I need them. This is such a difference for me I feel the need to remark about it.
It reflects a significant change in my reading habits. For all, I know it may reflect a change in the reading habits of a good proportion of the world. The old habit was a product of the fact that books are physical artefacts, stored in physical space and purchasable only in certain locations at certain times. Now, courtesy of the Kindle I can not only read a book anywhere, I can buy it anywhere. I never have to worry about a book I like going out of stock. There is no chance of me returning to the store to find out the book is gone, snatched up by somebody else desperate to know what happened next in a series. Amazon has an infinitely sized digital warehouse of the things stored in cyberspace.
I don’t need to make a trip to the store at certain times either. If I wake up in the middle of the night with a sudden desire to read Mexico Set, I can switch on my Kindle and download it. I can do this sitting in Prague and at a price far below what I would pay locally. All of this means that I don’t need to stock up on books. I don’t need to have huge piles of them on my shelves for when I finish what I am currently reading. I can feed the addiction using what is called in manufacturing terms just in time inventory control. I buy when I need to.
For a long term book junkie, this is an enormous change, possibly the biggest change to my personal habits since I gave up smoking 20 years ago. And it has happened by stealth. I never even noticed it until just recently and such is the perversity of the human heart that now I have noticed it I am feeling nostalgic for my old book buying frenzies. There is a lot of extra room in our flat though!