Why, Yes, I Still Actually Buy Books

Whilst out and about this morning, running errands, I stopped by Jay and Mary’s Book Center, because since I noted yesterday that they often had signed stock of mine, I figured I should go in and actually, you know, sign stock, just in case someone called and asked (it is now all signed, and they have everything in stock except Android’s Dream). And while I was there I also picked up this fine specimen of printed matter, China Miéville’s latest book Kraken, which went on sale here in the US just today. I read it in galley version and it’s great: It’s got squid, London and the end of the world, not necessarily in that order. It’s well worth buying, so I did.

That I actually purchased a book apparently comes as a surprise to a couple of people, since very recently I’ve been asked in all sincerity if I still actually go out and buy books. The question was posed not under the assumption that I am sub-(or post-)literate, but because thanks to The Big Idea and Just Arrived features here on Whatever, I get at least ten books a week sent to me, and often more, which is a) more than I could read and b) would seem to obviate the need and even the desire to go out and buy more of them.

Nevertheless, in fact, I still go out and buy books, and usually printed books, to the tune of several a month. Why? Here are some of the reasons, in order of how they come into my head.

1. Because even though I get sent a lot of books, I don’t get sent every book I’m interested in (alas), and therefore if I want to have those books, I have to go out and buy them.

2. Because some of the books I get sent are in galley or ARC form, which means that if I want a more durable version of the book, I should go out and buy it. Kraken, as noted, was sent to me as a bound galley by its UK publisher — which I deeply appreciated because hey, I got to read it early and I’m a big sloppy Miéville fan — and was already beginning to show signs of wear and tear by the time I was done with it.

3. Because buying books at my local bookseller helps keep that bookseller in business, which is something I have a clear and obvious personal stake in; after all, if authors won’t support their local booksellers, why should they expect anyone else to?

4. Because many of my friends write books (including China), and I think it’s a fine thing to support one’s friends and to help pad their sales.

5. I was a fan of China’s before I knew him, so even if I didn’t know him I would buy the book because buying an author’s work is the most obvious way to let a publisher know you’d like them to keep publishing that particular author.

6. Because in addition to paying the author and the bookseller, I also like paying the editor, the cover artist, the book and cover designers, the copy editor, the publicist, the guys who work at the printer and the people who drive the trucks that deliver the books. Thanks, folks.

7. Because books will look especially fine on those new shelves I just spent a whole lot of money on — and on those shelves I want not just any books, but books I actually like.

8. Because books make great gifts, and I enjoy giving books to other folks, but not the books I get sent because that’s kind of cheap, you know? If I think well enough of a book to want to give it as a gift, I can shell out for the market price.

9. As regards printed books, look, ma: No DRM, and the batteries never run out. I do use and for the most part like electronic books, but at this point for me they are still supplemental to, rather a replacement for, printed books; look at my eBook collection and you’ll see they’re generally copies of printed books I already own. That said, if I have a finished printed version of a book sent to me and I want a portable copy (for example, when I travel to Australia later in the year and am trapped in a plane for an entire day), I’m happy to buy the electronic version for that purpose.

10. Because at this point in my life I can afford books. When I was younger I couldn’t (thank you public libraries for being there) and who knows, maybe when I’m older I might not be able to anymore either (public libraries, hope you’ll still be around). But now I can, and I like spending money that way. Makes me glad my fetish objects of choice are books, and not cars.

So those are some of the reasons that I still buy books, and lots of them.

36 Comments on “Why, Yes, I Still Actually Buy Books”

  1. As someone who is also drowning in free books, I also take pleasure in buying the occasional one. Even if I get it in ARC for free.

    But a copy Kraken showed up at PW in HC, so, uh, I’ll just keep that.

  2. AndrewG:

    I don’t believe I’ve said that I don’t have one. In fact I have several, including the various PCs in the house, my cell phone, my iPod Touch and my wife’s iPad.

  3. Oh. OK, worded badly. You have many mentions of paper books, ARCs, etc. However, have not seen many mentions of e-versions or a dedicated reader. Given the volume of work you must read each week, and I am in awe of that, I was wondering if you had an aversion to them.


  4. I’m with you John. As a public librarian, I have access to, you know, pretty much every book ever. But I still buy books. A lot of them. In the event of a major earthquake, it is highly likely I will be pummeled by falling books.

  5. I always make a point of buying books (especially hardcovers) of my favorite authors, even if I don’t get to them right away.

    Especially hardcovers. They look great on my bookshelf and the author gets more money. Everybody wins!

  6. Andrew G:

    “I was wondering if you had an aversion to them.”

    Nope, although I am on record preferring to have physical copies of books sent to me, because at this point most eGalleys/eARCs/eWhatevers require additional hoop jumping, whereas printed books are simple.

    However, in a general sense I don’t talk about eReaders for the same reason I don’t generally talk about wood pulp; it’s what I’m reading that’s important, not the medium it’s transmitted on.

  7. I think this is pretty awesome.

    I read a lot of fantasy oriented slush and for a long time my partner looked at me oddly for wanting to buy new books frequently. Mind you he is at best a lazy and casual reader except when it comes to programing manuels and developer related commentary, so he could be forgiven for thinking that slush, for a book junky, was akin to a constant supply of a drug of choice. He actively started supporting my book habit once I explained and illustrated that reading slush is often the equivalent of drinking a draino cocktail after eating some corn nuts.

    I also make it a point to try and support our local books seller as much as possible since we only have one left and absolutely zero serious used book stores or exchanges.


  8. Although not provided with tons of free books, I have generally found the public libraries to be my primary source of reading entertainment. That said, I do buy hardback copies of my favorite authors. My FAVE favorites stay on my bookshelves to be re-read and the normal favorites get donated to the public library when I’ve read them so that the person who is #367 on the wait list for that book stands a slightly better chance of reading the book this century.

  9. And in a brash act of commerce, I must mention, John, that you’ll have a copy of China’s limited edition in your hands in a just a few short months.



  10. Shayera:

    “In the event of a major earthquake, it is highly likely I will be pummeled by falling books.”

    Oh my, yes. I don’t buy that many books for myself, but over the years they have added up, and suffice it to say our most recent purchase was more bookshelves to house the overflow… We’re both big readers…

    That said, I do buy a lot of books; a large percentage of my birthday and Christmas gift purchases are books. :) LOVE my local independent bookstore. :):):)

  11. The true sign of a reader is that they are always running out of bookshelf space. So I was very pleased to get an Amazon Kindle for Christmas. Now I can indulge my habit even more!

    Oh, and P.S. to Scalzi – whoever at the Hugo offices sent out Hugo packet updates with e-reader versions of the works, please thank them profusely!

  12. Ooh, I didn’t realize that this was out yet – ordered!

    I’ve yet to really read anything by China, and I’ve been wanting to for a while now. I also really want to read The City and the City.

  13. SO, basically, you are saying you dipped into Athena’s college fund in order to indulge your unsavoury litry habit? For shame, Scalzi, for shame!

  14. I find reading actual books to be more enjoyable because for one, the bookstore I frequent is a small, locally owned one and I know the owners, so I naturally want them to stay in business, but more selfishly I enjoy the feeling of an actual book in my hand rather than an eReader. Actually being able to turn the pages rather than just staring at a screen keeps me more into the book.

  15. Books. Can’t live with ’em (they’re pushing me out of the house), can’t live without ’em. Gonna buy me a copy of Kraken this afternoon if they have it in the store.

  16. Speaking of Mr. Meiville, you might be interested to know that The City & The City is this month’s io9 book club pick.

  17. It’s got squid, London and the end of the world, not necessarily in that order.

    Glad to hear the Magrathean’s are still finding work.

  18. I still buy books even though the vast majority of mine (of an SFF nature) are free review copies as well. What I love is using the Amazon gift certificates I get from people buying from my site’s links, which I then use to buy the kinds of books I love but don’t get in the mail, like history and science fact.

    And yes, I still haven’t had a desire to jump into the e-books bandwagon. I can understand the convenience for people who don’t have storage space for a big library, or who commute a lot, etc. And if the new format gets people reading more, then all power to it. But to me, a book on paper between hard covers has life.

  19. I’m fine with reading books in an electronic form, and have on many occasions. However, I doubt that the electronic version will ever replace the physical version as my version of choice. Beyond the physicality of holding and reading the book itself, there’s the association factor. There’s no way for an electronic version to accumulate any history – no little dings, no thumbprints, no signatures, etc. Once printed, a physical book takes on its own life, apart from but intimately linked to the words that it encloses. The book as object and artwork is important, and I don’t see any way that electronic copies will ever supplant them entirely.

  20. Point 4 makes me go all green and envious – since, like you, Mr Scalzi, I am “a big sloppy Miéville fan” – and unlike you, I live in the same country as him. Ahhh, the misfortunes of not being a hugely well known internationally-renowned author… on t’other hand, I don’t have the responsibilities either.

    And, having just moved house and rebuilt (not, I hasten to add, literally) my study – with book-lined walls – I have to say books do look very fine on shelves, and in a way the b&w copy of ARCs (or at least, the ARCs I’ve received) don’t. They also make me feel all intelligent, being surrounded by books I’ve read… the fact that about 1/3-1/2 of them are genre (the other half being non-fiction) notwithstanding!

    Oh – and there’s an Erasmus quote that applies to point 10 (or at least, to my meagre student budget and point 10 in conjunction…): “When I get a little money I buy books; and if any is left I buy food and clothes”. Who needs physical sustenance, when intellectual sustenance lasts so much longer?

    (And btw, nice pimpage of Miéville – may the man’s sales soar enough to get him to do an all-points signing tour of the UK!)

  21. I rarely pay full price for books. That’s because my husband works at a (locally-owned, five-store franchise) bookstore. He gets a lovely, lovely discount. When asked what my husband does, I tend to say that he’s a pusher. A book pusher! “You know you want it.” With the hubby’s discount, we can afford more hardcover books than we would otherwise.

    The only problem with this is that books are heavy! When next we move, that part’s gonna be a bitch. Sure, we’ll trim some, but it won’t make a significant dent.

    The hubby was surprised to hear Kraken was out. They didn’t get an ARC this time. They got one of The City & The City.

  22. I’m gonna buy this on the way home from work tonight. Because, dude, China Mieville!

  23. I live in the arctic. It costs $1500 (book 10 days in advance) to go to the nearest bookstore. That is why I do not buy bound books much any more (I usually do a bit of shopping while out of the arctic on vacation).

    I miss the wasting of an afternoon leafing through books and finding the right one by browsing. Working through Amazon just does not have that tactile, caffeinated blur of picking through covers, reaching for authors new and old and experiencing a taste of their wares.

    I could order them in, and sometimes do, but the selection process is a hassle, and the delay on delivery (a week to three weeks depending on weather) means that the feeling of finding a book and going into a nearby park to sit and read it under a tree can not be replicated. Three weeks later a box in the mail with -40 weather and the nearest tree 500 km south is just not the same.

    For immediate gratification of the new book fix, e-books has to be the best option, in my situation. Unlike the laptop, I can at least put the iPod into a pocket. (No dedicated reader / iPad yet, next year)

    I also had to get rid of my collection after moving north. Forever (>10 years) storage is way too expensive. Air-freight is even more expensive and 1000 sq. ft. is not that much space when you live with an installation artist.

    I do miss the book stores (new books at the big box, used at the neighborhood hole-in-the-wall).

    You do not know what you’ll miss until it’s gone… Gee that should be a song lyric…

  24. I find it hard to read a book without acutally having the book in my hands. It makes me feel uncomfortable.

  25. Books are pretty!

    Seriously, they are. There something amazing about the feel of a book in your hands, the glossy cover, the weight of it, the smell of it.

    The ability to stick a finger in the pages and partially close it to view the cover so you can ponder over a particular scene or passage.

    I’m sorry, but an ereader doesn’t have that.

  26. Ah, but where would life be without eternal and not just inconclusive, but inconcludable debates that are more about personal preference rather than anything intrinsic or absolute?

    …Oh. A lot further on, probably. I see what you mean…

  27. Friend of mine has an ereader (Nook from B&N, I think). Got to play with it last week. First time I’ve had any real hands on time with an ereader. Not too shabby, actually.

    I just donated about 100 hardcopy books because I’m out of shelving space. And after getting a chance for some one-on-one time with an ereader, I think I’m starting to warm up to the idea.

    If they could just get Scotty to figure out transparent aluminum so the things are practically indesctructible, I’d probably plunk down a small bit of money towards one.

    I haven’t donated the leather bound Lord of the Rings or the complete works of William S. that I have, but, hm, being able to pull any book in your library out of your pocket and start reading could be interesting.

    The alternative is that the smart phones figure out some sort of zero-power color e-ink display (*), at which point, getting an e-reader will be nothing more than getting a new phone.

    (*) or batteries that last for days of constant use

  28. I’d just like to add my voice to the recommendations to read the book that, due to my current job I am sadly unable to refer to as anything but “One Of Our Squid Is Missing”. Which is a shame, because it does the book something of a disservice. I am however gratified to see that Mr Mieville has seen fit to raise Zoology Curators to the rank of protagonist, and for this I am eternally thankful.

  29. Ooooh! Chalk up another sale to your credit. We hadn’t realized it was out yet, and he’s on our “buy sight unseen” list.

    We are taking the plunge and getting this one in eBook – partly because the bookstore’s already closed for the night, partly because it’s $10 versus $26, and partly because I want to see if I can stand reading a book on the iPad. (I’ve read ebooks before, but always as a last resort – when having nothing else on a plane or a bus, for instance, except my phone).

    This way, we’ll read it in e, probably pick up a HC or Pbk in a year or two so we have a physical copy (I likes!), and still come out ahead money-wise.

    and… shiny new Mieville! Sweet! Thank you!

  30. Love owning books there is absolutely no substitute for a shelf full of books in my home. Something about it comforts me and reassures me that we still live in a free society. Looks really great going to check it out.

  31. Bah, forget all this talk of free books, ebook readers, etc and let’s focus on the important bit:

    Australia? When and where? I, completely random unknown webstranger must know, that I may, perchance, stalk you for an autograph or something. :D

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