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Why do we buy books that we don’t read?

You’ve been staring at that book for the past few months. Surely this must be interesting. The cover looks incredible, and you certainly felt deeply inspired by it. 

Yet, it’s been months since you bought it, and you still haven’t even opened it. Or maybe you tried and didn’t get past the first five pages. 

Don’t worry. We’ve all been there. It’s tempting to buy new books. You know you already have tens of them lying on your shelf. Still, you can’t walk out of a bookshop without a new one. 

It makes sense. Bookshops rely on encouraging you to buy. Capitalism is not going to refrain you from consuming another good. 

We buy books to escape into another universe, learn, or discover other points of view

And you’re not the only one. The vast majority of us fall into this trap. My bookshelf is certainly no exception. There is a pile of diverse unread books: The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde to A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes and Les Guérillères by Monique Wittig. Like me, you probably have every intention to read them, and you should. But why do we buy them?

These books share one thing in common. I felt that I needed to buy them. We buy books to escape into another universe, learn, or discover other points of view. Walking into a bookshop is like walking into a world of infinite possibilities. You get to choose a new environment to daydream in or discover. You get to pick a new facet of your personality to explore or develop.

 When I picked up The Picture of Dorian Gray, I wanted to read an incredibly well-written piece of work that also matched the aesthetic of studying English Literature at University. I wanted to adjust my life to my Pinterest mood board. When I laid my hands on A Thousand Ships, I desired to escape into a mythological and divine world where women feel empowered. When I saw Les Guérillères, I wanted to dive into a universe of feminist activism that would give me hope to face life in a new, challenging way. These books are different, but they all share a similar interest for me: a means of transportation from one state of mind to another.

That is why, from my perspective, we reach for new books. We yearn for inspiration and change. These feelings differ every day and push you to desire various literary pieces over time. Although you haven’t yet read a book that mattered immensely to you not that long ago, you might already be in a different place.

Visiting one of these small businesses is perfect for discovering forgotten books of another time

The question is, what could we do to render this habit more sustainable? There are multiple possibilities. If you’re looking to browse beautiful books in dark-academia vibes, why not visit a stunning library? I recognise that not all libraries of proximity look amazing, but maybe that is something we need to change. Perhaps the key lies in investing in local libraries to make them cosy, and encouraging people to share reading habits instead of multiplying unnecessary consumption. 

Now, if you’re like me, you might like to annotate books. Perhaps you can try visiting independent bookshops if that’s your thing. They often sell secondhand copies which are craving for you to give them a new life. Visiting one of these small businesses is perfect for discovering forgotten books of another time. I can assure you that a small bookshop’s atmosphere is just what you need to match your desire to romanticise your life.

All of that seems great, but realistically, next time a friend asks you to join them at their favourite big company bookstore, you’re probably going to say yes. And I likely will too. Maybe the trick that time would be to pick up a book that you know you’re going to read or limit yourself to one.

We can find ways to match our insatiable need to romanticise daily life with a more sustainable and ethical lifestyle through simple steps like these.

Even a small change to our reading habits can make a difference on the path towards a greener world.


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