Wednesday 21 October 2009

24: The Challenge

The effects of Howards End is on the Landing continue apace... For the past couple years I've been on a book buying ban during Lent. I have hundreds of unread books, a limited budget, and love of a challenge... and so I'm rolling out a year-long restriction.

Restriction, not ban, I hasten to add. I toyed with a ban on book buying, but realised that going cold turkey would send me smashing the windows of Waterstones at 3am on January 3rd, grabbing handfuls of books, and collapsing in tears.

Or something like that.

So, instead, I thought I'd buy 24 books next year. Two a month. If I'm good one month, I can get more the next - on the other hand, if I go on a book-buying splurge, then I'll have to stay away from bookshops for a few weeks.

Let's put this into perspective. Two books a month coming into the house is probably rather more than your average person buys - but I would be surprised if I've bought fewer than 240 this year. I'm decimating my book buying, and then only keeping the bit that I've got rid of...

I should give you an idea of the response my friends have had to this, on Facebook and my online reading group:

  • 'GOOD LUCK, Simon! I wonder how many days you'll last? ;-)'
  • 'Is that IN 2010 or AT 20:10? I think the latter is more likely.'
  • 'Hilarious. I'll watch and laugh.'
  • 'I simply could not possibly do this. And I seriously wonder if you can.'
  • 'Madness!'
  • 'WOW. I look forward to seeing how this pans out.....'
  • 'I'm still speechless at Simon's decision to curtail book-buying, and if the resolution were made by anyone less sincere, I would suspect a Publicity Stunt! I can hardly imagine not buying books when you live in *England,* the *home* of books'
  • (and perhaps my favourite...) 'what evs!'
So you can see the faith my friends have in me. But I quote them in amusement, and shan't be insulted - far from it - if you happen to agree with them. I should add, to be just, that I'm not going to stop getting review copies, so more than 24 books will enter the house...

I think it'll lend a nice slant to the blog - as I unveil each of my acquisitions over the year, and at the end of the year can see which twenty-four made the grade... unless, of course, my friends are right and I crack mid-March...


  1. Good luck Simon! They will seem like little treasures when you eventually unveil them to us. I banned myself from buying books a few weeks ago and cracked the next day. I've been hiding the evidence and haven't confessed on my blog yet...

  2. Buy only 24 books, eh?

    So does this mean you can still make daily trips to the library, read public domain works on line, accept gifts and ARCs, and dip into "free to good home" stacks of books that just happen to come your way?

  3. Good luck! I think I could easily manage 24 new, full price books in a year, but there is no way I'd have the willpower to avoid those second-hand book bargains. Does your ban include all types of books?

  4. Good luck! I am impressed. I so wish I could join you but I know I will break down - perhaps I should start with your no book buying during Lent resolve. I gave up tea this year - not pretty, I turn into a raging maniac without tea. I did it but as soon as it was Easter Sunday I drank an entire pot in one sitting. Heavenly.

  5. Simon, that sounds like a year of torture! Why are you doing this? Two books a month is just not enough!

  6. I'm with Jackie - how can you avoid the secondhand books? Maybe you should revise your resolution to be a dollar-amount-per-month resolution instead, yeah?

  7. Susan D - yes, when you put it like that, it doesn't seem to much of a hardship, does it! But I think Jackie and Jenny are right - it's the secondhand bookshops which are going to be the killer, because it will extend to them...

    The reason I chose an amount of books rather than a set budget is because I can now splurge on ones I really want, and am more likely to treasure the purchases I make this year as a consequence... that's the plan anyway!

    Still, a good two and half months to buy lots before 2010 begins...

  8. Bloomsbury Bell - I would be incapable of giving up tea! I don't think I'd last a morning.

  9. Good luck! I've given up bookbuying pre-Advent, and 5 days in it is still going ok (mind you a few packages are still dribbling in from previous purchases). My main advice is JUST DON'T GO INTO ANY CHARITY shops!

    Anyway, there is the library if you need something desperately, and I can buy you any novel you need for your thesis :)

    The main problem is as you say in your comments the stock piling instinct starts to take hold beforehand. I would start your year NOW!

  10. I think this is very selfish of you, Simon. Restricting your book buying to 24 books is all very well, but it isn't as supportive of writers/publishers/bookshops as spending profligate amounts of money on books is, now is it? If all bibliophiles decided to be as financially responsible as you, the industry would collapse, and how would you feel then?

    Note: I may be joking.

  11. Simon, I have faith in you! 24 books is a perfectly reasonable amount of books; on average it would be four months worth of books for me and with review copies and all the unread books on my shelves then that would be more than enough to keep me occupied for a year or six.

    If the going gets tough (as indeed it may) then I would consider a proviso: twelve secondhand books over the year than can not exceed £24 in total.

  12. Your sketch made me laugh! And as for going without tea...perish the thought. If you don't have a book around you can always read the manual for your refrigerator or the back of a cereal box, but no tea...shivers.

    Best of luck on your endeavour Simon!

  13. Oh Simon! Good luck!

    I tried to go cold turkey and failed spectacularly the very next day, so I think curtailing rather than banning is the way to go. As you say, by limiting your book buying, you will be forced to buy only what you really want, rather than buying up swathes of books that linger on shelves for years before being read.

    I look forward to reading about your coping strategies (I am already assuming it will be a great struggle...apologies for the negativity!) and also what books did make the grade each month! Perhaps if I am very brave I may even join you!

  14. I could easily buy 100s of books for £24! I think that is where my problem lies!
    With me it isn't the amount of money I spend (I am in profit after selling them) it is the piles of books I have waiting to be read. I need to reduce the piles, not the amount of money spent.

  15. Love the illustration! I know I'd struggle with this one, too. I've probably bought that many just in the past two months!

    Then again it would be very good for the budget. And I certainly have plenty of books already in the bookcases. I'm thinking maybe I should take up the challenge, too...

    K x

  16. I would love to see a tally at the end of the year of how many of the unread books that you had in the house on 1 January end up being read during the year. I'm sure it will be inspiring!

  17. Good luck, Simon! I've been on a sort of buying ban for two months now - I'm allowed 1 new book for every 20 I read - and I think the only reason why it's working is because I'm still acquiring books like there's no tomorrow via Bookmooch :/

  18. Glad that my gracious 'what evs' made it in! I might try it with you. I have two days to go on my 10 wk book buying ban and its actually been ok.


  19. Thanks everyone for your wishes of luck! I know you'll be there to tempt me off the path... I mean help, help me!

    Evie - haha! I would feel guilty, except I mostly buy secondhand books, so the author/publisher was never getting the money anyway...

    Kristen M - that's an excellent idea! I can be certain I won't run out... but it'll be interesting to see what comes off the shelves. Probably mostly books for my DPhil...

  20. Will you keep this up now that I tell you Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters is in all good bookshops?

  21. This particular sentence just made me howl with laughter, so firstly thank you very much for the line

    "I toyed with a ban on book buying, but realised that going cold turkey would send me smashing the windows of Waterstones at 3am on January 3rd, grabbing handfuls of books, and collapsing in tears."


    Now then this test on yourself... a HUGE good luck from me, I think maybe I shoudl just try and not buy a single one and just allow them to be sent or bought for me as gifts but... its just not possible!!! I will be supporting you with occasional parcels hehehehe!

  22. Never mind the ban, I'm really impressed to find someone who knows the correct usage of 'decimate'!

    Carol N

  23. Best of luck with this! I imagine it will make book browsing and the selection process a true treat, and I'm looking forward to hearing about why you choose the books you do as much as reading the reviews.

  24. Good luck with the challenge Simon - only 24 books, that's so few. (I would say that, since I bought 17 in 2 weeks a couple of months ago!)

  25. Early in 2009 I blogged about not wanting to acquire anything during the year--including books. Well, I failed miserably.

    But after reading all these reviews of Hill's HEIOTL, I am tempted put some kind of restrictions on myself for 2010.

    I just got my copy of HEIOTL yesterday. I am trying to pace myself.

  26. I'm in agony just thinking about this ....

  27. Torture Simon, utter torture. However, it is very sensible, and as I immerse myself evermore into HEIOTL, I realise that it would probably do me a lot of good too!

    You may know I've been room hunting (which is daunting to say the least), but how much harder is the task, when you end up writing off a room, simply because you can't imagine there being space for any books there!

    In terms of 24 only, does this mean you can't do a BAFAB for a year, or use books as a wonderfl birthday or christmas present?

    I only hope I don't find you in some bookshop coffee place in Oxford, nails bitten down to the quick, rocking back and forth as you try to decide between two books that you've wanted for years, and you're one away from the sacred number .....

  28. Well I bought just two books (novels) in the last 12 months so I think you still have some way to go alonght the path to true enlightenment!

    Good luck; it seems like good sense to me given your enormous backlog of unread literature.


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