It’s strange how when the world comes to an end, you focus on all of the big things that change. When the plague (you know what I mean) first started ramping up in 2020, we knew a few things we could expect. We knew that our work and school schedule would be disrupted, we knew we’d have to adjust to a “new normal” (ugh, I hate that phrase) in our daily lives.
But I think as things in the U.S. start becoming more normal-ish, I’m realizing that there are a lot more “little things” in my life that have changed. And while it might seem silly, one of the things that’s definitely changed is my reading habits.
Through a significant part of 2020, most public libraries in the U.S. were closed. Even during the summer, when non-essential businesses started opening again, libraries stayed closed to public browsing. And while I have no evidence for it, I think a significant part of that had to do with being unable to account for all of the new pandemic protocols – when you have to disinfect every book that comes through your dropbox, that’s a lot of work for organizations that are often understaffed. Most libraries in my area stayed closed throughout much of 2020 and only started reopening when vaccines were made widely available.
Fortunately, most libraries offered digital collections of ebooks and audiobooks that could be accessed from the comfort of your home. But just like physical books cost money, so do licenses for digital books (that’s why libraries often have limited “copies” of ebooks). So when I wanted to read Shadow and Bone for the first time and saw that 23 people were in line ahead of me, I just decided to buy it for myself.
I think I bought more books in 2020 than I ever have in my life.
And I’m a bit ashamed to admit that I bought a lot of them from Amazon.
I’ll save my rants against Jeff Bezos for another day but I’ll just throw this out there: if you can, consider purchasing books from an independent bookstore. Most of them weren’t able to reopen when big-box competitors like Barnes & Noble did (like libraries, they usually have small staffs and crammed spaces), and it’s been a hard year for them.
Anyway, buying books. For the first half of the year, I bought books so I had something to distract me from my crushing depression and general sense of impending doom, and my other options for acquiring books were limited.
Later on, I got a real, grown-up job and gained a little bit of a disposable income so that I could… you guessed it, buy more books. (Also, winter was coming by that point so I was getting depressed for different reasons, and books are cheaper than therapy*)
*but you should also go to therapy. I hear it’s good for you.
Unfortunately, reading can become an expensive habit if you don’t pay attention. I’ve had to set limits on myself: I’m not buying any brand-new books unless it’s something I’ve already read or by an author I’ve read before (this does not apply to used books). I also often have conversations with myself that go like this:
“Maggie. You have access to five different library systems, two of which are within a fifteen minute drive of where you live. You can USE THEM.”
And I’ve been doing better with it! Of the last 15 books I read, 12 were actual, physical books. 8 of those came from the library (the other 4 I either already owned or borrowed from a friend). I’d say that’s a pretty good improvement.
My most recent library reads were The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix (which, despite its delightful title, was a terrible read in my opinion), and The Merciful Crow and The Faithless Hawk by Margaret Owen. What can I say, I’m a sucker for bird books.
So anyway, here’s your friendly reminder to use your local library if you have one nearby. And even if not, look into other options are available to you! You’d be surprised at how many free and inexpensive (and legal!) ways there are to read.