#TBR20 and how I buy books

I’m off on holiday soon, returning the week of 7 September. Before I go I thought I’d post a quick update on how I’m getting along with #tbr20.


In one word the answer would be slowly, given I’m currently only on book seven of my 20. To be fair I did interrupt the 20 for one reread (The Maltese Falcon) and one exception purchased for my last holiday (Gods without Men), making nine books total since I started. Still, it’s been an active summer and so a slow reading summer.

That’s fine, and I’ve no particular problem with how quickly I’m getting through the pile. It has though made me pay attention as to how books come into my life and how my TBR pile keeps growing even though I’ve been trying for some time now to reduce how much I buy.

I have a general no review copies policy, but I occasionally break that. I’ve broken it twice during my #tbr20, once for In the Beginning Was the Sea by Tomás González and once for Lee Rourke’s Vulgar Things.

On the purchases front, I’ve not been entirely virtuous either. I bought a hardcopy of Darran Anderson’s Imaginary Cities in response to an appeal on behalf of its publisher who were in a financial squeeze and needed to shift some units to make the end of the month. I don’t regret that – I was going to buy it anyway so all that changed was the timing.

How I interact with my kindle is more problematic, particularly Amazon’s constant offers. I’m generally fine avoiding overbuying hardcopy books – I have to go to a shop, pick up the book I’m considering, decide to buy it and then to carry it home. It’s all very there, very physical. You can’t be unaware that you’re doing it and once you have the evidence is now in your home taking up space.

Peter Watt’s Echopraxia, sequel to his groundbreaking SF novel Blindsight, has long been on my radar as a book to pick up. When Amazon dropped the price in a daily deal to 99p it seemed a no-brainer, and so without engaging my brain I bought it. I’ve no plans to read it soon but there it is on my virtual bookshelf.

Similarly, I’ve long planned to have a go at Elena Ferrante’s Naples tetratology. Amazon dropped My Brilliant Friend to 99p as part of a monthly deal and I grabbed it. I was going to buy it eventually and at that price it was practically free. Again though, I’ve no plans on reading it soon and yet I have it.

So, that’s how the books come in. I notice myself buying physical books and give real thought as to whether I should or not. What #TBR20 has taught me is that I don’t apply the same logic to virtual books. I thought I did, but I don’t. Instead I wishlist a book and Amazon runs constant sales and so when something I’m interested in (or potentially interested in) gets reduced I pick it up.

Every individual purchase made on this basis makes sense. Every 99p book, or £1.99 book or whatever, is a noticeable saving on the price I’d otherwise have paid. I don’t buy anything I wouldn’t at least otherwise have considered buying. I can only read so fast though, and those sensible purchase decisions add up over time to hundreds of unread books. They’re intangible, digital, so you don’t see them piling up as you would physical books, but they’re there all the same.

When I noticed this I stopped looking at Amazon sales. Savings make sense, but not as much sense as not accumulating vast numbers of books I may never read. It turns out book buying is like many other things – it’s not the conscious choices that catch you out, it’s the choices you didn’t realise you were making.

On a last note, #tbr20 itself is a bit risky. I thought the other day about what I’d put on a new #tbr20 after this one and ten of the books were ones I would have to buy. From reading other blogs I’m increasingly wondering if #tbr20 is the literary equivalent of a crash diet, with the same consequence that once you stop you put back on more than you lost.


Filed under Personal posts

13 responses to “#TBR20 and how I buy books

  1. kaggsysbookishramblings

    I’ve discovered a similar tendency myself since I got access to ereading… It’s easy to pick up cheap and sometimes free ebooks and they somehow don’t feel so real, as if you aren’t really clogging up your life with another book you need to read. Then it lurks on the Kindle shelf and you forget it’s there and read a tree book (well at least I do). I’m trying to resist now, but it’s not always easy….

  2. I have a database of all the books I have on my phone, because I’m anal. Sorry, because I once accidentally bought a book twice and wanted to avoid it happening again I should say.

    Once you have that it’s easy then to add a tick-box for what you’ve read and what you haven’t, and once you do that it’s equally easy to be horrified by how many are in the haven’t box, many of them free or cheap ebooks.

    It’s a bit like when I was a kid and credit cards came in to the UK. I remember my aunt saying that it didn’t feel like she was really spending money, it didn’t feel real, until the end of the month when the bill came in. For me they were always there (or rather once I was old enough to have one they were normal) so it wasn’t such an issue, but it’s a manifestation of the same effect.

  3. I went overboard with e-books too, and in fact I think that’s exactly what Jeff Bezos predicted–that people would buy more e-books. I used to buy on the sales but now it’s only when it’s something I REALLY want. Sale items are often recycled too.
    Many of the daily deals seem to feature crime books I’ve either never heard of or am not interested in. And I’m trying to be pickier on my crime reads.
    There was a big AMAZON PRIME day over here. Did you have that there? I read one comment saying it was the world’s biggest garage sale, and some people I know were buying just to buy.

  4. I bought too many amazon deals a while back as well but then I started doing something really silly. Once I wanted to actually read the book I went and bought the hadrcopy any way. I still don’t really like reading novels on the kindle. I don’t mind nonfiction so much. Anyway – no more kindle deals for me. No m ore review copies. I’m on book 6 of my 20 under 200 and have maybe bought two or three books in six weeks. I’m quite pleased.
    I think you’re doing well on the buying front.

  5. I do t succumb to many of the amazon deals because they are not the kind of books that interest me, like crime. But I do get carried away with net galley and project gutenburg and then find I forget what I have.

  6. It is hard to stay on the wagon for the full twenty. I’m halfway through my second round of twenty with a couple of lapses so far – both were second-hand purchases/rarities, so I don’t feel quite so bad about buying them there and then. As you know, I did have mini-splurge when I finished the first twenty, but things have calmed down since then. Not quite a crash diet, but my purchases have yo-yoed a bit. Going forward, I might try limiting myself to two purchases a month as that type of approach feels a little more sustainable in the long-term.

  7. I have two e-readers and I recklessly purchased many sale items in the early years. Blogging and engaging with readers as well as focusing on my more idiosyncratic reading interests has put my e-reader purchases into perspective. I use it for items that are not available any other way (many South African and UK releases fall into this category), or when I am curious and the cost is much less than ordering in paper. I find that my preference for paper books has grown in recent years. I like to look at them on my shelves. I am also inclined, should I love a book I read on an ereader (or from the library) to want to own a hard copy.

    I am hopeless.

  8. We had the Amazon prime sale thing, but most of it looked like junk, like the whole Black Whateverday thing we’ve imported from the US where (in the UK at least) crappy stuff you wouldn’t buy normally is sold at discounts that don’t seem to take it to less than it would be the rest of the year, and people go berserk sometimes even injuring each other.

    This world.
    I tell you.

    Right, moving on from quotes from Generation X (does anyone still read that book? I suspect it still merits it). It does sound like I’m slower at noticing the ebook sale trap than most, but I’m heartened that I’m not the only one to have fallen for it and that you all seem to have found your way back out of it (and thanks Caroline for the doing well comment). Bookertalk, not sure I should say but while it is mostly genre stuff there is literary too – Antal Szerb, Damon Galgut, a few others. They are few and far between though I admit.

    Net Galley I came off of for precisely this reason, plus I felt that what I read was being led by what I was given rather than what I wanted to read, which is horrid. This isn’t a job after all.

    Two purchases a month actually sounds quite a good rule. One would have to think hard what they were, but then so one probably should.

    Rough, if we learn anything from blogging (which we probably don’t), it’s that we’re all hopeless…

  9. No, I haven’t succumbed to the Amazon deals either but I do have 24 books currently in my Kindle TBR folder.

    I love your suggestion that the TBR is “the literary equivalent of a crash diet, with the same consequence that once you stop you put back on more than you lost”. I fear you are right. As soon as you feel you are going well, you drop your guard and “poof” you are in trouble again.

  10. I’m an incorrigible book buyer, so I didn’t even contemplate trying TBR#20 though of course I would like to clear some space in the library so that I can buy some more books. But I agree with what Sue says about your ‘crash diet’ theory. I choose what to read from my TBR on impulse so I could no more stick to a plan than I could stick to a proper diet.
    Ironically, I think that the digital revolution has actually made my book buying less impulsive, because I mostly acquire books now because virtual friends have suggested them. (Sue, for example, is responsible for at least 20 books on my TBR all by herself!)

  11. 24 isn’t bad WG. If I were anything near that I wouldn’t be too worried.

    Lisa, you got spamfiltered for some random reason, sorry about that but now fixed.

    I also buy mostly because of recommendations. The trouble is, I get a lot of excellent recommendations…

  12. Interesting thoughts and comments. Strangely, I’m your opposite.

    I tend to succumb more to books in bookshops (because, with my work schedule, I don’t have so many occasions to browse through books in a shop), so I tend to get them right away, while I’m there.

    I don’t think I’ve ever bought a book on sale on Amazon. (My account in on Amazon US, so the no-discount-on-books French legislation is not applicable) I delete the promotional emails and I don’t buy ebooks on impulse because I can buy them whenever I want. Or maybe I’m just not used to getting discounts on books and I’m not used at browsing through promotions like in a grocery store.

    I agree with you on the analogy of a crash diet. I still have 7 books to read and as I’m not a quick reader and I also have the titles for my book club, I suspect the TBR20 will last until the end of the year. I think I’ll do another one though. (Or two TBR10)

  13. I think one can get conditioned to looking for discounts, sometimes to the retailers real disadvantage. HMV, the music and DVD store in the UK, ran constant sales with the result that after a while hardly anyone bought anything there except on sale. They conditioned their customers not to buy at undiscounted prices, and once they’d done that the customers realised there were better discounts online…

    I don’t see myself doing another TBR20, but a TBR10 is entirely possible.

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