Let’s talk about books, shall we?
On Instagram last week, I shared my latest out-of-control stack of new books to read. When I order new books, I’ll sit them on the low bookcase under the window of my studio until I take the time to sit down and read them. When I say “read”, I mean actually read in some cases, but in most cases, I review the books. I take my time flipping through each page, making notes, and flagging pages I want to revisit, before filing it on the shelf. (I like to use THESE to flag pages in my books because I can reuse them and they don’t ruin the pages.) Sometimes, the book goes back in the stack, so I can spend more time with it. Such is the case with the books sitting at the very bottom of the stack.
Sometimes the stack can get to be 1-2′ tall if I go on a book-buying-bender. When I shared all of the books in my to-read-and-put-away pile, I received a lot of comments, questions, and encouragement. A few people jokingly asked if I needed an intervention while other people added fuel to the fire and recommended their favorite books for me to buy, It was just an interesting dialog and I thought I would bring it to a blog post. I also thought I would share my mindset when buying books, why I think my collecting has accelerated over the past year, and my “Dewey decimal” system for keeping things organized and looking nice.
First of all, I’ve been into books for as long as I can remember. Book fair day was always the best in elementary school and, while I was happy to resell my math and science college textbooks, I would almost always forgo the opportunity to earn some money and kept the textbooks on design and theatre. I was already alternating between three different mail-order book clubs when I was 20 years old, working the system to get my freebies, fulfill the obligation, and cancel only to join again in a year. When Jeff and I went out on dates, one of our favorite spots was (and still is) the books store. When I couldn’t afford to buy new books at the book store, I would sit on the floor and look through potentials, making a list of the ones I wanted to order from the book club or buy on half.com (before it was acquired by eBay.)
When I first thought about starting my business, I turned to a book. (THIS is the book I read and referenced regularly.) To get ideas for decorative painting motifs and mural designs, I turned to books. To learn about repairing and refinishing furniture, decorating, sewing, and upholstery, I read lots and lots of books. I often joke with Jeff that they are my continuing education. They are my non-official, non-accredited degree. And they are a constant source of inspiration, ideas, and instruction that don’t involve a screen.
I joke that my book collecting is a problem, but it really isn’t. It would be a problem if I bought books I wouldn’t read, I bought books with money I didn’t have, or if I had so many books we couldn’t walk through our house. Having full bookshelves and a large resource library on topics related to my business and hobbies isn’t a problem. It’s an asset.
Now, I will admit that the pace of my book collecting has accelerated and I think there are a few reasons for that. Before we get into that, here is an example of how it’s grown over the past 1-2 years. This is what the bookshelf in my office looked like in the summer of 2020…
…and this is what it looks like today…
Yeah, things are starting to get a little tight! I’m not quite out of shelf space, but I’m getting there!
I did take time this weekend to clean out the magazines and got rid of about 15-20 books that I haven’t looked at in a long time and find it unlikely that I’ll reference them in the future. That freed up a little more space to expand.
I got rid of a lot of magazines, only keeping the ones I like to revisit. Magazines have gotten so expensive they are almost as much (and sometimes more) than books, so I’m getting very intentional about which ones I buy.
My home office is where I keep my books on decorating, architecture, business, creativity, and some inspirational books.
Then, there are the art books.
This is what my artbook library looked like in early 2020…
…and this is what it looks like today…
I shouldn’t have been, but I was surprised at how much I’ve filled these shelves over the past 18 months! I think a few things have contributed to the uptick…
- I was craving inspiration, encouragement, and distraction during quarantine, so my online book purchases definitely increased during that time. I also liked the pick-me-up of getting mail. It felt like a connection with the outside world when we were stuck at home.
- I discovered Thrift Books! It’s not the easiest site to navigate or find books, but it’s a great place to look for bargain books and, boy, have I found them! There are days I would browse around and get a healthy stack for $25-30. I even earn credits and have gotten several free books by cashing them in.
- I have learned that out-of-print art books can be $3 one day, $25 the next, and $100+ if the demand goes up and the availability goes down. Some books I’m watching have skyrocketed to $900-1000! This has made me paranoid about out-of-print art books, so I’ll jump on ones I’m interested in when I find them at a reasonable price (usually around $30 or less.) In the past, I would’ve just added them to a wish list and waited to buy them when my to-read stack was getting a little low or when I wanted to study a specific artist or style. Now, I feel more of a sense of urgency whether it’s real or perceived.
- Books have become a part of my routine. I set time aside most days specifically for the purpose of reading and studying. This includes physical books and audiobooks that I listen to on my walks. I’ve learned it’s a good investment in myself.
Here is my process for buying books…
When I buy books, I always try to buy used ones if the book has been out for a while. The cost difference can be substantial If it’s a relatively new book, it usually doesn’t make sense to buy it used from a financial perspective. I almost always look at Amazon first for the description, a look inside (if available), and ratings/reviews. If I can’t find enough information, I’ll do a general internet search to see if I can find some independent photos of the interior of the book, so I can assess if it’s something I would want to buy.
When buying visual-based books like art, decorating, and design books, I’m looking for books that are a good size, have lots of colored photos, and a decent page count. I don’t want dinky books with black and white images if I intend to use them to study paintings or interiors. I didn’t pay attention to the size in one instance and ended up getting a 3″ squared book on impressionist paintings. I couldn’t help but laugh at this teeny-tiny thing that arrived when I thought was a coffee-table-sized book!
Once I have decided the book is one I want to add to my library, I’ll look it up on a few different sites to find the best price. I don’t mind buying books in “good” or “fair” condition, since I plan on using them anyway. I’ve bought many books for less than $5.00 just by shopping around. I’ll check Amazon, eBay, Etsy, Thrift Books, and Abe Books. I have accounts with all of those sellers and have had positive experiences with all of them.
The books in my office are arranged mostly by size and color and I find that visual system works well for that library. For my studio, though, I needed to sort the books a little bit more sensibly. I was having trouble finding specific books or getting a good handle on what I had. I ended up dividing them into two groups – books on artists/museums/styles on the left side and instructional books on the right. Mostly. On the left side, I do have textile design and color books, too, but they are primarily art instruction books. I sorted them even further and have the sketching/drawing books together, portraiture & figure books together, landscapes, still life painting sorted, etc. It helps me find things easier depending on what I need at the moment. It also helps me fill holes in my collection and be more strategic about books I want to collect in the future.
Two questions – What will I do when these bookcases are filled? Do I ever buy the same book twice?
The answer to the first question is – I’m not sure, yet! I do still have a few inches to grow on my dedicated bookcases. Beyond that, we have plenty of open shelving in our house, but I do like to keep books sorted in the rooms where I actually use them. If I start spreading them around the home, it might be harder to interact with them in a meaningful way. But, that’s what I might have to do! Pull out some groups of books and put them together in a different room. I could also clean out some books that have either served their purpose or aren’t ones I’m likely to continue to enjoy. I feel like I’ve outgrown some of the beginning art books, for example. It’s always hard to know which ones I won’t want for sure, though, and I don’t want to end up buying the same book twice…
Unless I do it by accident, which I have done! I actually just did it recently at Barnes & Noble, but I realized it, tucked the receipt in the book, and I’ll return it next time I’m there.
One more question I’ll throw out there… Why don’t I check out books from the library more often? Fair question! I do use my local library (although the one in Rochester is not as convenient as the one when we lived in PA), but I like to own my books. I like to put in markers and notes and I like to return to them over and over. These books are a part of a valuable resource library to me, so I like them to have a permanent home on my shelves. Looking up something online just isn’t the same to me.
Any other book collectors out there? Any great used book resources I failed to mention?
If you’re interested, here are a few of my more recent book purchases…
If you want to see the books on my Art Book Wish List, you can see that list HERE.
If you’d like to read more in-depth book reviews, you can find 52 reviews from my Book of the Week series in 2020. You can also find some of the art books in my library HERE (I need to add more), decorating/design library HERE, and business/self-management library HERE.