March 6th, 2006

Vanitas desk

On buying books

On the top floor of Foyle's book store yesterday, I turned down the chance to browse the shelves in any section of my choice. I left without buying anything. The one temptation I passed, marked-down thing-a-day calendars for 2006, were all ones I'd worked through in previous years.

More and more, I find that book stores are places I avoid going to idly. I go to find presents and I go to meet friends and I go when I need fiction and have no particular book in mind. There is nothing like a book store (or open-stack library) for browsing. I am most willing to indulge in unexpected fiction, found by chance or sudden recall of a once-enjoyed author. Even cookbooks or food history books can be an occasional whim; I am new enough to the genre that I know of far more books of interest than I possess. I eke out my purchases, a very few at a time.

Last week, when I placed an Amazon order for two academic books, I included a food book as an extra treat in my order, a classic to supplement the geographic range of my existing collection. Claudia Roden's A New Book of Middle Eastern Food fills a continent-sized hole; but it wasn't why I placed the order. I wanted - needed perhaps - the two academic books, and not just any book could fill that particular niche. I needed very particular books. Sometimes I need them in very particular editions. And given the convenience of online ordering, for the books that matter most, I almost always mail-order these days.

My tendencies war with my deeply-engrained conscience, the importance of keeping independant bookstores alive and well, something which won't happen without my footfall - among others. Small independant bookstores are especially vulnerable to the convenience behemoth. They especially need me and my book-buying compulsions. But I still need them too, especially on days when I have forgotten what fiction I enjoy, or wonder what else is out there I might like to read, and only browsing the shelves, at leisure, will suffice.