Nov 3, 2011

Library Therapy for the Shopaholic

I do love secondhand books that open to the page some previous owner read oftenest. The day Hazlitt came he opened to "I hate to read new books," and I hollered "Comrade!" to whoever owned it before me.
~author Helene Hanff, from her book 84, Charing Cross Road

I am, I readily admit, a wee bit of a shopaholic. But that only means I'm in step with the rest of the nation. In the last few decades, the U.S. has become synonymous with compulsive mass consumption. And overspending? Buying what we don't need but impulsively feel we just got to have? Well, it's sort of soothing, isn't it? Oh the feeling that one just has to have something, indeed deserves it! It's like a drug high fueled by the thrill of the chase--and, oh, when one bags it prey! But the euphoria doesn't last long & buyer's remorse usually kicks in when one faces the almighty checkbook or gets the store card bill:
I can't believe I threw away money on that!!!

Now I still blow money on things I don't need, don't get me wrong, but one little device (or perhaps more accurately "de-vice") I have for quelling my urge to splurge is simply this: checking out library books.

Hunting for a new book really does, I find, produce the same sensation as hunting down something to buy, but doesn't cost a penny. And the trade off is often so much more satisfying because the act of acquiring a book--and reading it!--is experiential, not just material. On the materialistic side, however, you still get to have something concrete in your hand, to take home and feel that sense of mastery and control shopping often brings. But 'round about the time buyer's remorse over a purchase sets in, your library book is due back and you aren't stuck not being able to return it because you took the tags off it and wore it. Books are expected to come back used.  

Though let me stress, I am talking about actual books. Those things made out of wood pulp and card stock and occasionally leather. If you own a Kindle, or some such thing-a-ma-jig, and prefer to download books, which you can now do at most libraries, good for you. But I would argue, try a book. I think it helps soothe the savage shopping beast in a way an e-book simply cannot. Perhaps it is the way the material fuses with the experiential. And Kindles? Well leave it to corporations to create gadgets we don't really need & that simply replace a low-tech version of the same damn thing that already exists and won't cost you a dime. Books are about getting back to the basics, and as a result, getting back in touch with ourselves. Maybe that's what is behind all the frenetic spending--we are so removed from ourselves and other people that we keep longing for objects to fill the lack.

How many times have you touched a keypad today? Now how many times have you held someone's hand? We spend our days looking at LCD screens, but what about gazing into someone's eyes?

 I can't quite put my finger on why, but I think reading a real book is one way to get back to dealing with real people, and not the digital simulacrum. Is it all the hands that have turned the pages you now turn? Even those often annoying notes someone wrote in the margins--well there was a heart and brain behind the pen. So just try it. Next time you have an itch to go to Macy's, go to the library instead. You'll find just as many fictions there.

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