For my birthday I was given a £20 Waterstone’s voucher. And I was hugely excited by this. I literally never get to buy new books – the sheer quantity of books I buy means I would be bankrupt in a matter of weeks if I paid full price for them all. So I limit myself to second hand and charity book shops and the restrictions that come with that. You really can’t go into a second hand book shop with a set list of what you want to buy. It’s complete pot luck what you’ll find on any given day. Sometimes it will be a £1 copy of a book you’ve wanted to read for ages and sometimes you’ll go empty handed. But that’s part of the fun of it. That rush of excitement when the name of the author you’re looking for jumps out at you. If you get anywhere near as invested in books as I do then you’ll understand what I mean when I compare it to rush you get from gambling. And I could very well be addicted to charity book shop shopping.
There’s also the fact that I kind of prefer second hand books. I like when a book has a history, has lived a life without me. By the time I get it I want it to have cracks in the spine and marks on the pages. I want it to look, well, read. As Helene Hanff says ‘I love inscriptions on fly leaves and notes in margins, I like the comradely sense of turning pages someone else turned, and reading passages someone long gone has called my attention to.’ I counted and over half of the books I own are second hand (69% to be precise. Working that out was not an easy task). And there’s a good reason for that. They’re just better.
But it turns out that not only do I prefer second hand books, I actively dislike new books. It took me over an hour to choose which books to spend my money. I just couldn’t find any that seemed worth the price to me. New releases were out because they tend to turn up in charity shops quite quickly; classics were out because they all came in those generic Penguin Classics covers which are just too mainstream for me (book snob, party of one). I looked at Philippa Gregory and George RR Martin. LM Montgomery and Sylvia Plath. Philipp Larkin and Caitlin Moran. And with every book I came to the conclusion that it was ok, but I’d rather find it second hand.
But this snobbishness goes one step further – I dislike new books and the people who buy them. Actually that’s not true. I dislike some of the people who buy new books. And by people I mostly mean teenage girls. Let me explain.
It turns out reading has got cool. Sometime while I was busy solving cryptic crosswords and sewing for pleasure this monumental shift happened in the world of the teenager. A world I am plainly no longer a part of. Sob. I suppose I really I should have noticed sooner – the number of book blogs out there and the whole craziness surrounding John Green were pretty obvious signs. And don’t get me wrong, I’m really pleased about this. Crop tops and underage drinking may have passed me by but this was the kind of trend I could have got on board with at 15 years old.
Unfortunately as with all trends there comes the hanger ons. The ones who don’t read because they love reading but because they want to be seen to be reading. Occasionally I suppose I could be criticised of doing this myself. I do feel quite smug when I’m sat on the train with my dog-eared copy of Mansfield Park or Valley of the Dolls, looking all cultured and edgy but tend to think twice before reading Philippa Gregory in a public place. But I draw the line at ever buying a book with no intention of reading it. Surely someone doing that would be certifiably crazy? That’s like buying a TV but never watching it. Or buying a cake and leaving it go mouldy on the side.
But turns out that that’s what the youths of today are doing. Case in point was the girl who picked up a copy of Brideshead Revisited, gushed over the cover, exclaimed over how long it was, questioned why anyone would read a book with that small a print and then bought it anyway! She also mispronounced Evelyn Waugh but I can’t really hold that against her – it’s a hard name and I’m still not sure I say it right. The final straw was the overheard comment of ‘oh I love classics, I own loads of them. I don’t ever read them, I just like the idea.’ I was so angry I had to sit down with Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire for ten minutes while my heart rate returned to normal. What’s the point of buying a book if you’re not going to read it? I felt like Phoebe in that episode of Friends (I have this theory that everything in life can be compared to a Friends episode) where she gets all upset about Christmas trees that don’t get to fulfil their Christmas destiny of decorating someone’s house and instead get condemned to the chipper. If a Christmas tree’s destiny is to be decorated then a book’s destiny is to be read. And anyone who denies it of that is cruel.
So is this what Book Tube has done to the book industry? Maybe I misunderstood what Book Tube was all about. I mean I’m not so behind the times that it had passed me by completely – I know about channels and book hauls and book tags, I’m down with the kids – but I always kind of assumed it was much like what all those other book bloggers (me included) are doing, just on video. And mostly limited to YA fiction. And I never really got into it because a) it seemed a little redundant to me to mix mediums – books are written word, therefore you should review them with written word and b) I don’t really have enough data allowance to watch a lot YouTube videos. But is it actually people talking about the pretty designs on covers and the feel of the pages? Is it producing this monster teenager who goes about buying copies of Anna Karenina and Jane Eyre with no intention of ever reading it, just so they can review the cover and model it for Instagram? Oh my god, am I part of the problem?! I model loads of books for Instagram and as far as anyone knows I might not have read them. I talk about how pretty the covers are of the books I own without making one mention of the content.
So I think I might come up with an entry requirement to be a book blogger. Before you’re allowed to set up a website or YouTube channel you have to prove that you have read 84 Charing Cross Road (because there is no other book that better describes someone’s love of reading) and Pride and Prejudice (just because everyone should). I’m open for suggestions about any others that should be included. And this way we can weed out the imposters who don’t really know what they’re talking about. Those posers with shelves of Penguin Classics doomed to remain unread and unloved.
The point of this post was just to get this rant off my chest but it does leave the burning question of what did I eventually buy on this ill-fated trip to Waterstones? As much as the experience might have been more stress than it was worth I’m not about to turn down £20 of free books on principle. I finally settled on Not That Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham, An Abundance of Katherines by John Green and The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford, which came to the astronomical fee of £21.97, even with a buy one get one half price offer, and I’ll have to crack the spines myself. In Oxfam I could have got all that for £4.50, with the cracks thrown in.
Reading back through this post and I realise just how old I sound. Old and miserable. Like a modern day Silas Marner. Or oh my god I’m turning into my dad (just kidding, dad. That happened years ago! I’ve been a lost cause since I first laughed at one of your jokes).