Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Under Employed

  Over the past year I’ve had altogether more time on my hand than I’m used to, the end result is that I’ve also had a lot less money then I’m used to. Not having money has been something of a mixed blessing (fortunately not a total disaster as yet) clearly there are a lot of things impossible without it, but mid recession my situation is not unusual. There are social obligations that I can say no to with a clear conscience which is a tremendous luxury, and time to read in a way I’ve missed since responsibility for bills took over my life. Definitely not all bad.

  Before this happened I liked second hand book shopping, but I was more inclined to buy new, pristine paperbacks straight off the shelf in Waterstone’s or Borders and order exciting packages of half a dozen volumes at a time from Amazon. New books are currently pretty much outside of my budget though, which has meant something of a readjustment in buying habits. Yes I miss being able to buy all the exciting new things amazon are so helpful as to bring to my attention - but they’ll keep. In the meantime a whole new world of second hand wonder has opened up.

  Despite an upwards trend even in charity shop pricing a book compares well with a weekend paper, and very well with a chain shop coffee, so should there be a spare fiver at the end of the week it’s a bit of a foregone conclusion where it will end up. I find it slightly ironic that despite being poorer than I’ve been since leaving university, I’m acquiring more books than ever. Ironic but deeply satisfying.

  Beyond the price second hand book shopping has other attractions; namely the fast vanishing pleasure of browsing with the real possibility of turning up treasure. I can’t say that it’s really extended my reading horizons, but my collection of Virago’s has expanded significantly, I’ve turned up a variety of books by authors I love long out of print, and It’s let me chase recommendations from likeminded readers that I might once have thought twice about.

  I think it’s also made me a much more discerning buyer, a totally inflexible budget means no room for mistakes, experiments and speculation certainly, but not outright mistakes. So I’ll take a chance on ‘Lady into Fox’ despite mixed reports, or 6 different E. H. Youngs confident that I can put my trust in Virago, but will pass up dozens of other titles that only half tempt. If I come out of this experience with nothing else I will at least have a larger, better chosen collection of books – the beginnings of a library with a coherent theme to it - and know that I’m much better read on those themes, in short the time will not have been wasted, and that’s very comforting some days.


  1. Desperate Reader, I could have written this post! I too am in a financial position (under employed is a good term) that is not conducive to buying books and yet they seem to still materialise and even breed until they suddenly multiply... Ironic yet deeply satisfying indeed.

    I love some of the titles you have accumulated during this time and wish you success. I too hunt out those bottle-green Viragoes.

  2. This is so familiar. Like you, I was used to buying new books whenever I was taken by the sound of an interesting title or a much-loved author. In my case, I could order them through my company and they'd show up the next day on my desk (highly dangerous!). But there's something infinitely more satisfying somehow about walking into a used bookstore, not knowing what you're going to find that day. I may not be able to buy whatever strikes my fancy, but I'm enjoying the process of really looking and judging what I want to read instead of what I only might like.

    It looks from that photograph as if you've found some really good books, and I'm looking forward to hearing more about them here as you read them. (Particularly the Stella Gibbons - what a find!)

  3. You always write such interesting posts! I rarely buy books new - I much prefer the joy of finding gems in charity shops and second hand shops. It's such a delight to find something you've been looking for for ages, tucked away on a dusty shelf, just waiting for you to take it home!

    You have an impressive collection of jealousy inducing books...I'm particularly intrigued by Laski's 'Love on the Supertax'.

  4. I love the photo of the Viragos at the top - I've only come across Her son's wife. I love seeking out Viragos, and it's nice to know that they are generally reliably good.

    I should try to spend less on books; I'm lucky in that I'm slightly overemployed, in that I work 3 jobs (but still only earn as much as what most people earn on doing just one), but it makes me tired and miserable sometimes and I acquire far too many books to cheer myself up.