Why I Don't Buy Books

I love reading BookRiot’s Buy, Borrow, Bypass feature. I love the alliteration in the title, I think it’s a very clever way to say how valuable the content of a book is, and every time I read it I am halfway tempted to rip off that style of post. But, I never will.

I have a fundamental problem: I don’t buy books. This is absurdity for a booknerd like myself, I know. I used to have lots of books. Now I have twelve.

My book buying history

Growing up, I had an adequate collection of books in my bedroom, and probably a couple shelves more than the average American kid. On my birthday, I would always ask my dad to take me to Barnes & Noble and buy me a few books. My mom was good at finding Costco book deals or Friends of the Library sales. Most of my reading materials came from weekly visits to the library.

When I moved away for university, I left my books behind, but Tucson has a wonderful used bookstore called Bookmans. During the school year, I would visit Bookmans for stress relief, and naturally would walk away with a handful of beautiful volumes. Come summer break, I moved out of my Tucson house, every year, and sold most of the books back to Bookmans. It’s hard to lug that many books around the state a couple times a year, you know?

After graduating, I worked for Americorps for a year. While it was a great experience that I don’t regret at all (if you are thinking of doing Teach for America or Peace Corps but also kinda don’t want to, look into Americorps! It’s way more flexible and very interesting!), but part of the deal is you live at poverty level. Thankfully, Tucson is cheap and I already lived modestly. But some priorities had to be made: am I using my “fun money” to eat out with friends or buy a book? Clearly the answer is tacos with friends. The neighborhood library branch saw me a lot that year.

Two international moves have happened since my year with Americorps, both involving selling as much as I can and taking only two suitcases with me. Books in Brazil are more expensive than they are in the US, and even more so when you compare the prices vs average middle class wages. It’s not that I don’t covet ALL THE BOOKZ, it’s that they aren’t worth the cost.

How I get free books

1. Library e-loans.
My library card from Arizona is still active, and Pima County’s e-book collection grows daily. Tucson libraries are small but mighty.

2. Kindle books from Amazon
The public domain classics, though possessing the ugliest covers, are free. I would love to buy these classics from The Folio Society but I’ll have to wait until I get rich for that to happen. Occasionally, friends from church tell me that there is a one-day special of free kindle books by a Christian author, but I don’t know where they get this insider information.

3. Netgalley
This site connects publishers with people who should get advanced copies of books. There are soo many interesting books that I request for review. I don’t always get approved (especially because I often get curious about books that have nothing to do with my area of expertise—YA), but publishers still provide me with so much reading material that I set limits on how frequently I’m allowed to browse the site.

4. Self-published Authors on Goodreads
I joined some YA groups on Goodreads, and it’s pretty common for self-published authors to offer free copies for review purposes. That’s how I read Alora by Tamie Dearen. I’m challenging myself to get over my bias against self-published authors by actually reading them.

Murky waters

I completely agree with John Green’s essay “Why Libraries Are Different From Piracy” and I generally don’t download books illegally. But, there are two big exceptions:

4. Manga Rock
This app that draws from a number of manga sharing sites across the internet. You can find pretty much every manga, ever. This is like the Pirate Bay of Japanese comic book series. I justify this with asking myself: How would I even be able to find, let alone afford, a whole manga series that’s in English in Brazil?

5. PDFs of non-fiction
When my library doesn’t have a non-fiction e-book that I feel is important to read, I submit a purchase request to them. If after a month they still don’t have it, and I still want to read it, I hunt around online until I find a pdf. This is the case with The New Jim Crow. I don’t feel guilty about this because educating myself on important topics is worth breaking the law.

I’d like to hear your opinion on my less-than-ethical book acquisitions. Imagine this scenario: While I would never steal The New Jim Crow from a bookstore, I would go to the store and sit down and read it without buying it, being very careful to not crack the spine or tarnish the pages. Is that unethical too?


  1. Interesting topic! I don't think libraries are anything like piracy--I've never really thought about it that way before, and I think it's kind of weird that people do. I totally agree that #1-3 are great sources for books (Edelweiss is awesome too). I've personally never tried #4, but I WOULD like to read more indie books.

  2. Wow, having to cut down on my books would really make me sad, but your reason and need to cut down is very understandable and admirable! The library and free books for the kindle is a great way to get the books you need to read too. The ethical issue of getting books that you have no other way of getting is a difficult one - I totally side with you on this, and I think I've read comments by other authors who just would like their work to reach readers. So I think you tried your best by exploring all avenues possible. And you can also support the authors you like by recommending them online through your blog!

  3. I get so overwhelmed just browsing through Edelweiss! I haven't signed up for an account on it yet because 1) I've been intimidated by its largeness, and 2) I request waay too many books from Netgalley as it is. I need to put myself on a book browsing ban, seriously.

  4. Hmm that's a good point! I do give out lots of free publicity, and that does take up my time. It takes at least an hour to make a review post. When I pirated music in highschool (I've stopped since then), I would try to go to as many concerts as possible and buy swag. I did go to a ton of concerts. ^_^ I think I was reading on Jenny Trout's blog (http://jennytrout.com) the other day that she said when people tweet her asking for free copies of her book she gives them a link to a fileshare site. It made me laugh.

  5. I get those emails about free christian books too! Hahaha. I think my dad uses BookBub for his notifications. Other people... Strange Christian osmosis? :)

  6. Oh man, I don't need anymore free book alerts! But I was always curious to know the name of this secret club that all the holy people are a part of 0;-) [that's a halo smiley face]