Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Am I A Book Jerk?

There are a lot of causes out there.

Two that make me scracth my head are these:

Save a journalist: Buy a newspaper.

Save an author: Buy a new book.

I was a journalist. I am an aspiring author. But I don't buy newspapers and I can't remember the last time I bought a new book.

The book cause, especially, confuses me. Me, I haunt thrift stores. If I can't get it for less than a dollar, it's got to be a damn good read for me to pry my wallet open. Am I supporting authors by doing this? Do the thrift stores send them a residula from my 50-cent purchase? Hardly. And no. Am I, in fact, a publishing industry pirate, buying books on the sly, stealing bread from the mouths of struggling authors?

Now, I hold no illusions. The number of writers who earn a living solely from their writing is infinitely small. For the rest of us, we have to write because we love to write, not because we think we're going to make a living out of it. I thought I'd make a living in writing by being a journalist. Took me nearly ten long, terrible years before I finally came to a startling conclusion: I'm not that fond of journalism. Now I'm a technical writer, making much better money. But this kind of writing does not fill the soul, but as Theodor Seuss Geisel found in writing ad copy, it does fill the fridge.

So I rarely buy new books. Probably the least time I paid for a new book was back in the mid-90s, when I paid $24 for a hardback copy of Richard Adams's Tales from Watership Down. And I read that one once, before putting it up on the shelf to collect dust.

So buying used books does nothing for the published writer. But I argue it does loads for the unpublished writer. Just this week I've read books by Robert C. O'Brien, one of my favorite authors, and am reading one by Aleksei Remizov, a Russian author I probably would never have found in the book store just because I rarely wander into the "literature" section. What I'm saying is that the thrift-store shopper has a better chance of being exposed to a wider variety of writers, writing styles and such, broadening an aspiring writer's horizons without having to spend a lot of lolly.

And it's amazing what you can find at the thrift store, too. My favorite find: A copy of Melba the Brain, signed by author Ivy Ruckman, including a personal note to the book-owner, one of her daughters. How it ended up in a thrift store in Idaho I'll never know, but it's mine now. And I'm proud of it, though Ruckman didn't get a penny from me.

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