Why I Always Buy Books

About a year ago, I noticed that I was not reading as much I used to and not enjoying it when I did.

I asked myself why this is the case and it came down to:

  1. Sometimes, when I read non-fiction, I get bogged down in sections that are not particularly relevant, interesting, or just repetitive. I get bored or frustrated for not making progress.
  2. I grew up only reading books I borrowed from the library. As an adult, borrowing from the library creates two problems 1:

    • Most books I hear about tend to be popular and on hold at the library. I must wait between the time I want to read a book and when I borrow it, potentially causing it to lose relevance.
    • I have to return the book in 3 weeks, creating an artificial pressure to finish in time.

I accepted the first. There will always be parts of books that are less interesting to me. I should be comfortable reading them more slowly or skipping past them.

The second required a shift in mindset. I convinced myself that it is 100% worth it to buy all my books and pay for the ability to immediately and indefinitely own a book.

Consider this exercise: Think of a book that has changed your life and decide how much you would have paid to have that experience. You can amortize the cost of many books you abandon with the value of a single, life-changing book.

In one of his interviews, Patrick Collison said that he constantly picks up new books and abandons what he’s currently reading. With so many books in the world and only a limited amount of time to read them, it only makes sense to read what is most relevant to your life now.

Now, if there is a book I want to read, I will go straight to Amazon and buy it. This makes it available on my bookshelf to read immediately or as soon as the urge to read it hits me.

About a quarter of the time, I’ll pause the book I’m currently reading and start the new one to see. If I get bored, I can go back to a previous book and rediscover its magic.

This change has been one small step towards building a more consistent reading habit.

1This is not an indictment of public libraries. For those who cannot afford to buy books, libraries are an invaluable resource. I am very thankful for the impact of the Plainsboro Public Library and its staff on my early development.

Many thanks to Osman and Shubhro for helping revise drafts of this post. Also, check out Shubhro's great piece about the rules for reading books.