As usual, I’m late on this one, but the real point, seems to me, is the discussion, not the timing of the discussion. Sometimes I need to let these topics ruminate for a day or days before my own feelings become either articulated in my head, or strong enough to warrant a blog post.
Booking Through Thursday asked, on June 9:
All things being equal (money, space, etc), would you rather own copies of the books you read? Or borrow them?
My response in this case has been shaped and strengthened through reading lots of other responses, so thanks, fellow bloggers. Special thanks to A Guy’s Moleskine Notebook for the mention of supporting his local library!
So. What’s my answer? Like some of these other discerning bloggers, it’s not a simple either/or. Of course, as a librarian, an insatiable reader, and a book lover, I have a collecting problem. It’s too easy to pick up a book I know I want to read someday, but have no time to read now, and put it on a bookshelf or in a stack at home; then I turn around and find that the towering stacks are threatening to eat Husband, little dogs and I for lunch. (Part of the problem is that my job sends numerous homeless books my way.) This would seem to indicate a preference for owning.
But! When given the opportunity to think it through and give a reasoned answer, as here, I would not always choose to own. For one thing, there are too many good books in the world to ever read, or own, or house, them all. (This is both a good thing and a bad thing.) I know the question presupposes endless storage space, but there has to be a limit. I don’t ever want to live in a space the size of the Library of Congress times 10,000 or whatever it would take. I think the “etc.” in the question (unlimited “money, space, etc.”) is ability to choose! Or maybe time to read! I feel that books are meant to be shared, and passed on. Now, don’t get me wrong; there are many books in my collection, and in my future or dream collection, that I wouldn’t part with. That copy of The Jungle (etc.) that belonged to my parents; the beautifully bound; the unique early editions. My favorite books, especially those with a high chance of being reread or quoted from, I would always want to own a copy of. But I also enjoy passing books on. Recommending a book to a friend is one thing; putting a physical copy in his/her hands is another. (That’s one reason why it’s fun to meet up with Amy or Fil for dinner or drinks: the prospect of physically handing over books.)
Also, as a librarian, part of my life’s work seems to be providing other people with reading material. I work in a library that runs a paperback collection off donations; I’m always happy to put books into this collection, and really, a “light read” of genre fiction may as well go back into circulation as languish on my shelf never to be reread. Also as a librarian, I’m hyper-aware and extremely appreciative of the prospect of a free and unlimited supply of books to read. Even with all the money in the world, I wouldn’t buy every book I’m interested in reading; if it turns out to be a dud (and some do!), I don’t want it living with me afterwards! But with all the money in the world, I would be likely to buy some of the best books I’ve read from the library that turn out to be excellent. (Most recently, that would be Fire Season and The Heroine’s Bookshelf.)
So I guess what I’m saying, to question of buying vs. borrowing is… both, of course! Moderation in all things (thank you Aristotle), and a place for everything and everything in its place (variously attributed). Some I want to own, but most I think I would borrow, even with all the money and storage space in the world. What I most need is not money or storage space, because we have these wonderful libraries everywhere! (Support your local libraries, friends!) What I most need (besides more storage space, certainly) is more time to read. And some really beautiful, well-crafted bookshelves.