Friday, April 25, 2008

Where do you get your books?

Every so often pieces come out in the press or the blogosphere about saving money on books. Usually, the main piece of advice is to go to your local public library and to exercise some restraint when it comes to buying books. Everything else on such pieces is mostly filler. So, these two pieces caught my eye recently:

For what it may be worth, here are my two cents on the topic. In my case, I do exercise some restraint on what I buy. True, not as much as I would like, but I am getting better. However, here is what I face:

  • Bookstores in Tyler, Texas leave a lot to be desired. Pure and simple, there is no way around this. The Barnes & Noble in town does not even have a media section (so forget about DVD's, CD's, etc.). As for the book selection, it's almost like any big box, though a bit more limited when compared to a big box in Dallas or Houston for example. On the positive, it may mean I buy less books, but on the negative it does mean that when I want to buy books I either have to go online (which I despise), or I have to plan a day trip to Arlington, where the nearest Borders and the nearest Half Price Books are at. I don't mind taking the occasional trip since I like driving, but still, gas is expensive these days. By the way, if you have not discovered Half Price Books for used books, you should. I don't necessarily like Borders better than B&N, but the selection out there tends to be better. As for second hand bookstores here, selection is pretty low as well. I will speculate based on observation that part of the low selection is the fact this is a very conservative enclave of the state (even other Texans cringe at how conservative East Texas is). As a result, certain types of literature will never make it here unless you get it from out of town. Graphic novels and manga are good examples of stuff you are better off getting online or out of town.
  • The Public Library. Unfortunately, their collections are a bit behind the times. Once in a while, I find something to read, but it is rare, and usually I have to be looking for it. If you want the latest in politics, and your politics lean to the right, then you pretty much have it made given they do bring those titles in. If you are looking for things like self-help, romance, spirituality (of the light kind. Think Chicken Soup series and similar), then you may likely find it. While overall I do like my work here in Tyler, the public library was a bit of a shock after being used to the Harris County system where you could get almost anything. If you are a 2.0 person, just a comparison of the websites will give you an idea of what I mean.
So, what is an avid reader to do?

Well, besides the occasional trip out of town, I use ILL extensively. I cannot advertise the service enough. And folks, this works pretty much for any library, public or academic. If they do not have what you want, tell them to bring it via Interlibrary Loan. Do keep in mind that you are usually eligible for ILL at your local library. In other words, you have to go through your local public library. For those in academia, it works if you are affiliated to a college or university. Sorry to local folks, but if you are not part of the campus, we send you to your public library. That's how the service works. Anyhow, I do use it quite a bit to get things, especially LIS books. I am probably one of the few librarians who actually reads the library science literature, and I mean read it, not just look at the abstract and then post a line on a blog pointing to it. Think of it as my form of public service. I read a lot of it so you don't have to. But I am digressing.

Back to the subject at hand. Here is my philosophy in brief on books. If it is a book I think I will reread again, and I consider it a good piece of work, I will likely want to buy it. Anything that I would read only once, I will borrow. Most of the stuff I read falls on the second category, so ILL is a good friend.

Then there is the common sense. The MSN article has some things I do agree with:

  • Avoid new releases. This should be a given. You know the book will eventually come out in paperback. Or, if you have to have it hardback, eventually it either gets remaindered, or makes it to the used bookstore. So why rush? Patience can certainly be a reward. For me, since I often have a cue of books to read, getting to any new release is just not urgent. I read it when I get to it. By the way, this applies to DVD's and video games as well.
  • Explore used bookstores. This is true as well. As I mentioned above, in my case, I have to travel to find a good used bookstore, but it is worth the drive to find that diverse inventory.
  • Buy only what you intend to read. This is kind of tough for me, though I am getting better. A problem for me is that I am not a fast reader. Surprised? Well, there you have it. My better half gets through books like going through water. If they are science fiction, it's even faster. If they are Star Trek (especially TOS), she will have it done by the time you are opening the book you are about to start reading. She is that fast. So, the result is when we go shopping, she can get something new since she ran out of stuff to read. I end up getting something I would like to read, but I don't get to it right away. If it is a short scifi fiction collection I buy, she borrows it. The woman reads her stuff and mine, which is fine, but you see the pattern here. Anyways, since I am rarely without something to read, I have less of a need to buy. But I still get a book or two on the premise it may be a while before I make another trip, i.e. I stock up.
  • Share. Hmm, I have mixed feelings on that. In principle, I don't mind it. However, I have little faith in people, and no, they are not borrowing my Alan Moore graphic novels or my other nicer items. Get your own, or better yet, go to your library. I will share advice and recommendations; I am not lending you my books, you thief. After all, we all know once someone borrows a book from you, it goes into that black hole of they leave it in their house, may or may not read it, and they never return it; of course, you feel odd asking for it back, and he or she feels odd returning it the longer time passes (unless they are truly shameless and simply hope you forget about the book). So, why go through that?
By the way, on the MSN article, a good number of commenters griped about the idea that the authors would make less money if people don't pay for books, and so on. Here's my take on it. Personally, if I like an author, when I can, I will certainly buy their work new. I tend to do that more if it is someone local or that I have met. This is rare, but once in a while someone comes along that I decide to support. However, given the extremely large volume of books published every year, one can't certainly buy every single one, even the ones I favor. Plus, to be honest, some of those books published are probably not worth the effort. I don't think publishers are as selective as they could be when it comes to what they publish (just look at the tripe and lies they have been publishing under the category of memoirs), so it is, to an extent, survival of the fittest. If X author is not getting bought, maybe X should not be writing books. Harsh? Maybe, but my time in terms of reading is limited. Anyhow, there is always someone who puts it better than I do, and in this case, Neil Gaiman, one of my favorites, explains it when it comes to free:

"Libraries are good things: you shouldn't have to pay for every book you read.

I'm one of those authors who is fortunate enough to make my living from the things I've written. If I thought that giving books away would make it so that I could no longer make my living from writing and be forced to go out and get a real job -- or that other authors would be less likely to be able to make a living -- I wouldn't do it."

If he can go and give away a few things now and then, and he has no problem with us going to the library or borrowing books, I am sure more people can be cool about it. You should not have to pay for everything you read. Support those authors you like, and then borrow the rest I say. By the way, Gaiman is one of the authors I will buy.

So, there you have it. In the end, I think you should be able to read what you want by whatever means necessary.

Update note (same day): Shortly after finishing this draft, I came across this little item in my clippings folder. Discardian gives a little list on "when to buy a book."

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