Uncategorized | October 27, 2011
What books can I afford?
Because I am a twenty-seven year old PhD. student in English and eminently pompous, I often spend my nights lying awake, worrying primarily about the fate of the novel in modern culture. Well, I suppose that’s not entirely true. The fate of the novel is only fifth on the list of things I worry about at night. Here are the first four: 1) Why does no one love me? 2) Why does no one pay me enough money? 3) Why do I still have homework? 4) How can I make my fantasy football team better than it is? (Which is not very good)
But mostly I worry about money and the fate of the novel, and as a graduate student I worry about my inability to purchase novels at full price given my crippling lack of funds. Looking back over the last several years I can think of remarkably few books that I purchased in hardcover–usually I wait for the paperback & then I wait for someone to give me a gift card to Amazon (gasp! ugh! traitor!) so I can buy used copies from the million used-book-sellers online. I frequent the local, non-chain bookstore from time to time (downtown Columbia has a great one where TMR blogger Davis Dunavin is often found), but sadly I buy used books there as well and then castigate myself for not checking it out of the library. But sometimes I get excited enough (usually by an author’s previous work or by the subject matter) and I wait for a new book to release and I decide I’m going to buy a hardcover copy as soon as I can because I’m that excited to read it and I refuse entirely to wait the nine months for it to come out in paperback. Then, when it releases, I go look at it a couple of times in a bookstore, I read a few pages, I leave, I smoke a cigarette, I get a soda, I return, I read a few more pages, I hide behind a shelf so the employees won’t throw me out, and then I buy the book new. Which, to be frank, is one of the best things in my life (reference question 1 that keeps me awake at night). Because a new book is exciting, and the pages smell good, and it fits right in your hand, and you’re excited about it, and there’s something terrifically reassuring about reading a brand new hardcover book. And if you’ve been waiting for the book–sometimes for a while–it’s even more exciting, because anticipation and pleasure are correlated (Flaubert said something about this), and I become a more generous reader, but also–because the book is new and I haven’t heard a lot of people talk about it and I’ve bought it pretty much reputation unknown–it’s fresh and awakens the sense of wonder that literature is supposed to engender in me. If I could I’d always buy books new instead of stealing books from friends, the library, various professors who leave their office unlocked etc.
Getting back to my point (even though I don’t have one), what I want to say is that, while I love books, I rarely buy them as soon as they release, and for me to do so they must excite me in some deep way, some soul-turning, buttock-clenching way that makes it absolutely impossible for me to not have it immediately. And while a lot of books do that, few make my buttocks clench to the tune of 25+ dollars. In the last few years I can think of just four (Bolano’s 2666, Lethem’s Chronic City, Lorrie Moore’s A Gate at the Stairs, and Vikram Chandra’s Sacred Games) that have convinced me that my life would be an untenable prospect without them.
Recently I’ve been counting down the days till Murakami got to release 1Q84 (which happened yesterday and I have a copy in the mail), and Eugenides’ The Marriage Plot hit the market. Now that both are on their way to me, I’m wondering what publishing event I should get super-excited about. Which is really the purpose of this blog–so you can tell me what I should get excited about buying next. Because it really is all about me.
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