Do you remember when there used to be these contests in which the winner won a ‘shopping spree’? You either got to spend 10 minutes pulling whatever you could from the toy store shelves into your trolley, or else you got to spend a ridiculous amount of money (probably $500 or something). I don’t remember seeing those since I was a kid.
But finally this week I got to experience one when a friend tipped me off that the uni library is offloading surplus books. Not old dross that no-one ever checked out, but former short-loan books, which were either books that were prescribed for courses, or those which were popular. There is a section roped off on the ninth floor where you can take whatever you want, then take them downstairs to check out… for good!
I ran over there and got as much as I could carry. I went back that evening with two bags and filled them. I stashed what I couldn’t carry in a corner and will be back for more.
It is all good stuff. Unfortunately the history section was done earlier and no-one told me. But what remains are the Dewey Decimal 300s (social sciences), 800s (literature) and some sub-300s I’m not so familiar with, including psychology and philosophy.
So far I have only raided the 300s and got like 50 books. It is stuff I might eventually have accumulated only over many years of trawling the second-hand stores. I got classics of economics (e.g., Schumpeter’s History of Economic Analysis, Joan Robinson’s Accumulation of Capital), Marxian classics (e.g., Lukacs’ History and Class Consciousness, some Hobsbawm, some Perry Anderson), classics of Australian economic history (e.g., E. O. Shann’s An Economic History of Australia, Butlin’s Foundations of the Australian Monetary System and War Economy, Fitzpatrick’s The British Empire in Australia), and a bunch of thesis-related stuff you probably wouldn’t be interested in.
It is like ten Christmases all at once. But there is a slight hint of a downer because now when guests ask “have you read all these books?”, I will be in even less of a position than ever before to reply that “well, I am at least aware of their contents.” It would take me some years to get through all the books I am getting this week and it makes me realise that life is short and books are long. I also need to buy a new bookshelf and promise my partner I will not go book shopping for the rest of the year. Furthermore, it increases my anxiety about the cost of shipping when we eventually leave the country.
But still, it is nice. I’m not an extravagant shopper for most things. I buy an article of clothing on average once every six months, for instance. But books I can’t help but accumulate. I was at least slightly comforted to read Adam Smith’s view that books are one type of those durable goods it is wise to collect. Much wiser than spending one’s revenue on a profuse and sumptuous table, and in maintaining a great number of menial servants, and a multitude of dogs and horses. This is because, among other things, if a person should at any time exceed in it, he can easily reform without exposing himself to the censure of the public. Because the public need never know, whereas if I had to lay off servants or reform my table from great profusion to great frugality, or lay down my equipage after I had once set it up, everyone would be talking about it. (Also, when I die or grow weary of them, the inferior and middling ranks of people will be able to purchase them for a bargain, hence the the general accommodation of the whole people will be thus gradually improved.)
[Wealth of Nations, Book II, Chapter III]