Here’s my New Year’s Resolution, and it’s not to eat more kale.
I eat quite a bit of kale. It’s satifsying. It’s good for me and the farmers who grow it, and it’s good for the environment. But I’m going in a different direction this year. This year, my resolution is to buy more books, and my reasons for buying more books are similar to the reasons for eating more kale.
Buying books is satisfying.
Buying books is good for me and for the people who make books, and it’s essential to the literary environment.
A friend recently told me she couldn’t buy any more books because her backlog of unread books was too big. What?! Wait a minute. I don’t have time to read every book I buy either, but buying books isn’t just about me.
It’s like buying produce. If I think buying local or organic produce is just about me, it can be hard to justify. But if I think about all the others who benefit from my support for small farms—the workers, the birds and insects, and the soil and the earth itself—going out of my way and spending a little more is worth it.
I’m lucky to live in an area with a lot of farmers markets. We also have a lot of independent bookstores, small presses, and writers. Other parts of the country are similarly endowed. Hearing an author talk about and read from her latest is as satisfying as going to the farmer’s market to buy onions and squash from the people who know the fields they grew in.
I know I can get a new book through the library, and I use my library a lot. But when it comes to new fiction or creative nonfiction, I might have to wait before I can check it out, and I will certainly need to return it.
In any case, the motive behind my book buying goes beyond being able to read a book. I buy local produce because I care about farms and I want the region where I live—New England—to have farms twenty years from now. Buying local supports local farms and producers. Buying books supports the world of literature—and I want the world to have bookstores and writers and publishers large and small twenty years from now.
So I buy books.
Literature needs community support just as much as farmers do.
Unlike our ideals for agriculture, however, the community of letters can include the entire world. And just as food plays a larger role in the cycle of life than simply feeding individuals (think compost, fertilizer, and decomposers), books, read or unread, can do more than entertain or inform one person.
I keep books for as long as they continue to be something I’d like to read or for as long as the memory of having read them brings me enough pleasure that I might want to read or consult them again.
And then I pass them along—to make room for new books.
Not long ago, I loaded several paper grocery bags full of books into my trunk and donated them to the annual used book sale at my son’s former school. Some I’d never read; others I’d read long ago. Some I’d started and given up on. But I was glad to have had those books in my life even though I was moving them out of my house. When I bought those books I supported one or more of the following: local bookstores, publishers large and small, writers, editors, designers, printers, publicists, warehouse workers, truck drivers, bookstore owners and workers, and all the other people whose livelihood involves creating, selling, and transporting books.
When I donate those books I’m still supporting the world of literature, just as I did when I bought them. Kids love the treasures they find at the sale, parents load up on everything from cookbooks to thrillers to literary criticism, and the school makes several thousand dollars for its own library purchases. Just as important, the books that aren’t sold are donated to a place where books are rare. They go to libraries in Rwanda and prisons in the United States.
A child in Massachusetts or Rwanda might discover a favorite writer and help keep the world of literature alive for another generation. A prisoner might find a book that helps the hours pass—or that introduces her to an idea that will give her hope.
These are some of the reasons I’m going to head for the bookstore—not just this week, but throughout the year ahead—and buy books, especially those published by a press almost no one has heard of.
A book costs about the same as two movie tickets (or less). Making coffee at home instead of buying it in a shop saves me enough to buy a couple of books a month, and I’m not worried about Starbucks going out of business.
Living in New England, it can be hard to eat local twelve months of the year. But the land of letters produces year-round, and books are never out of season.
Lynne Weiss’s work has appeared in Circa: A Journal of Historical Fiction; Black Warrior Review; and Brain, Child; as well as the blogs of The Common, Ploughshares, and PANK. She has received grants and residency awards from the Massachusetts Cultural Council, the Millay Colony, the Vermont Studio Center, and Yaddo.
Read More Work by Lynne Weiss:
- Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War by Viet Thanh Nguyen
- A House Made of Stars by Tawnysha Greene