As 2015 is winding down, I've found myself thinking about my New Year's Reading Resolution.
Much like fitness goals, I give myself a yearly reading challenge. In 2014 my goal was to read more books than I'd ever read in a year before and in genres that I hadn't previously tried, which meant 46 or more. Thanks to trying comics and mysteries I ended up reaching 60! In 2015, I realized that a quantity goal was incentivizing me to read shorter books, so this past year my goal was 45 books with at least 10 of those being 375+ pages and at least 7 by Hispanic/Latino authors. (I'm a huge Gabriel Garcia Marquez fan and want to find some living Hispanic/Latino authors that I like just as much.)
For 2016, I'm doing my hardest reading challenge yet. I'm not going to buy a single new book.
This is pure torture for a book nerd, but I have good reason for it. First, a little background.
For the past year, I've been working at a job I love and, at 25, I have more disposable income than I've ever had before. I'm certainly not rich, but this isn't that crap, Ramen-noodles-for-dinner-every-night job. And when a book nerd has a little disposable income, it only makes sense to buy books!
For the first time in my life, if there was a brand new, hot off the press hardcover at full price I didn't have to think twice or check my bank account or beg my mom to get it for me or put it on some far-off Christmas list. I just bought it. Short of a bookstore shopping spree, this is every book lover's dream.
I found myself getting one new book and two or three used books a month; sometimes more used books if I happened upon a good sale. My book collection increased exponentially, yet despite having more reading options I kept buying more books.
During this time, I've also been in grad school studying library science. Over pages and pages of studies and statistics I learned how the Great Recession impacted a third of US families---either through job loss, pay decreases, or hours reduced---and how people's entertainment budgets were among the first things to go in response to the change in income. I learned how library budgets were similarly slashed, despite the number of patrons continuing to increase with each year the recession surged onward. I read how hold lines got longer and materials lists got shorter. I read about all the ways that libraries were constantly coming up with creative ways to do more with less.
But this didn't affect me. With my new buying power I didn't have to use the library. Sure it was nice, but I didn't have to use it because I had other means.
So here I was studying to be a librarian---preparing myself to serve people who use the library, some of them because they had no other means---and I had never been in their shoes.
I am a hypocrite. Plain and simple.
In truth, even before this year I never truly had to rely on the library. Even growing up in a middle class family, my grandmother was sympathetic to my book-loving nature and would always buy me whatever books I wanted from the thrift store or used book store. And she always gave me gift cards to Books-A-Million for my birthday and Christmas.
But I cannot, in good faith, study library science and not know what it's like to rely on the library like I have no other means. I cannot serve a population that I don't understand. I can't truly help people until I've done my due diligence in empathy.
I'm not saying I'm never going to buy another book again. But I am saying that for my 2016 Reading Resolution, I'm not going to buy a single book. I'm going to rely on the library and what I already have. I'm going to live as though buying books is out of the question.
Of course, this is not some empirical experiment. I'm already privileged in that I have a sizable book collection and I live with my partner who has nearly as many books as I do. Our apartment is a small library in and of itself. Combine that with the three public libraries I have access to and I could never want for books.
My goal is not empiricism, but rather to put myself in another's shoes, at least so far as I'm able to do so.
So my 2016 Reading Resolution is this:
- I will not purchase any books, whether new or used.
- If I want to read a book that I don't already own, I have to get it from the library.
- Books bought for me, such as birthday gifts, don't count. I'm not going to rudely refuse a gift.
I know it sounds like book lover torture, but I feel ready. I'll keep you posted. And if you're doing any reading resolutions, let me know in the comments below!