13 Questions We Ask When Shopping For Books

You just went in the bookstore for one book — you swear, just one! But then there was Kate Atkinson's new book practically beckoning you from the Featured Reading table. You heard such great things about it, how could you not pick it up? That’s it, you’ll just grab it for now… and, you know, hold on to it like a comfort object while you look around for the book you actually came in for.

But wait. There's that book that Maggie Nelson references in that essay you were just loving! You might as well just, like, take a peek at it, right? Right.

If you belong to the tribe of the book-obsessed, you know this scene all too well, and that’s only how it begins. By the time you start making your way to the register, you’ve got a Volkswagen-sized loot of books that you’ve got to dwindle down to an amount that will still let you make rent this month. The dwindling process is an emotional struggle for the book-lover, because let’s be real, you need every single one of the books you picked up. You just do!

But alas, your paycheck (and the disappearing space on your bookshelves) can only handle so many more book purchase, so, we begin the process of narrowing down, usually with a (by now) pretty streamlined series of questions...

How Much Can You Actually Afford...?

First things first: Before you start sighing sadly as you return that next book in the series you’ve been reading back to its place on the shelf, you always ask yourself exactly how much you can afford to drop on books right now. You might have only walked in the bookstore for one book, but if you’ve got a little surplus income why not pick up the next two… or maybe even three books in the series? Or, maybe... at $26 bucks a book... maybe not so much.

But, Wait, Really, How Much Can You Really Afford, Like… If, Maybe You Only Eat PB&J For the Next Week?

Yeah, let’s be real: You know you’d rather starve a little than take the chance that the last signed copy of the new Toni Morrison won’t be there after your next paycheck. Your budgeting might start off smart and balanced, but it quickly devolves into a checklist of things you can sacrifice without losing your ability for daily human function. You can spare the subway fare and walk the 10 miles to work if you just wake up an hour or two early, right? If you're really far gone you've probably considered sustaining yourself on the pages from your cookbooks.

Wait… Do I Already Own This?

Thanks to the Goodreads App, I’ve cut in half my number of duplicate book purchases. Now, I practically check every single book I pick up to make sure I haven’t already bought it in some “I need this now!” moment and then left it to the hordes of unread books on my shelves. And speaking of all those unread books…

What Would Olivia Pope Read?

Or whatever superfly diva is your spirit animal... because let’s be honest, what you read is as much a factor of who you’re trying to be as it is of your current tastes and tendencies. But seriously, if you read what Olivia Pope reads maybe your wardrobe will also be inspired and be instantly dope-ified (Pope-ified!), too. A girl can all dream…

Which One Of These Books Will Increase the Likelihood of Getting That Hottie To Strike Up a Conversation?

No shade. This is a perfectly legit reason to buy a book. If a guy or girl is striking up a conversation with you because of a book, s/he’s already passed like four of the five filters you make a partner pass through before you even consider continuing the conversation. Besides that, it might force you to pick up a book you might not have considered otherwise, and then you’ll have an adorable story to tell about how the only reason you and Hottie ended up together was because you saw her/him wearing a Charles Bukowski T-shirt on the train and proceeded to buy an entire Bukowski anthology just to nab her/him. At least this is how it happens in the daydream you have on the train on the way to work every day.

Exactly How Much of My Soul Will I Have to Sell If I Buy This Cheaper on Amazon…?

It’s OK, it’s OK. You’re not alone. We’ve all done it once or twice (probably more), betraying our beloved local bookshop and the lovely owner Tim, who knows your name and the name of your pets and can probably list your favorite books off the top of his head. (YOU ARE A TERRIBLE PERSON.) And you can feel his eyes on you as you leave the register to go home and get it on Amazon cheaper. He knows! He knows!

Am I Actually Going To Read This... Like, Soon-ish?

It’s a common misconception that every book-obsessed reader has read every single book on their bookshelves. A lot of us horde books like a great book famine is nigh. Of the thousand books I own, I’ve probably read something like two-thirds of them (or, you know, more like one-third…). So, as you pile on the books at the store and the tally gets to impoverishing levels, you’ve eventually gotta square with yourself and ask the tough questions. Am I actually gonna read this? Like soon-ish? Still, it takes a lot of willpower to answer the question honestly. You’ll tell yourself, I’ll totally read it. I’ll start today! And that’s how all those other unread books ended up on your shelves.

Exactly How Badly Do I Need To Know About The Details Of Snail Reproduction?

It's real. Every time you go to your own bookshelves for the next book to read, you probably pass up that book on the eating habits of middle class children in 18th century Connecticut that you were just so certain two months ago you absolutely needed. I get it. There are books about everything and you just need to have them all! But yeah... once your bookstore pile has reach Eiffel Tower heights, it's time to consider if you can just get the brief version of silkworm mating rituals online.

Will This Book Cover Embarrass Me In Public?

You know you’ve definitely passed up on Solaris because the only copy you could find had a giant close up of George Clooney making out with Natasha McElhone on the cover. Doesn’t matter how amazing the book is, you can’t be seen nose-deep in a book (that’s definitely not at all George Clooney making out) with that kind of stuff on the cover. Similarly, there are some book covers that are just so gorgeous, you don’t even care what the books is about.

Do I Actually Know The Names of Any of The Blurbers?

Publishers aren’t wrong when they seek out the all-stars to blurb their debut author’s book. Peeking at the back of a book and finding a quote from your favorite authors is sometimes the smallest spark you need to push you towards the cash register. (Unless the blurb is from Gary Shteyngart, in which case you might have to read the rest of the blurbs and maybe re-examine the book description to make sure you know what you’re actually getting into.)

Is There Room Anywhere In My Apartment (aka Overcrowded Habitat For Books)?

Bookshelf space is a thing of the past for book-maniacs. Books go in piles on the floors, take the place of dishes in the kitchen cabinets, and are even artfully compiled into makeshift chairs if necessary. So it's a sincere question you have to consider every time you set foot in a bookstore — wait, am I gonna be able to step foot in my apartment at all if I keep coming home with books by the armful?

Will The Size Of This Thing Dislocate My Shoulder?

There are two schools of thought on this one. There’s the school of “More Pages Means More Money’s Worth.” These readers have bookshelves full of Infinite Jest -length tomes and the wrist muscles to prove it. Then there are the readers who ask, “but will it fit in my purse…?” because what’s the point of a book that you can’t take with you every single place you go. But then again, you could always get a new purse…

Eenie Meenie Miny Mo…

When all else fails, you’re not above regressing all the way back to kindergarten logic, even if you know in the back of your head that you’ll just start on the book you want to keep…

Image: brewbooks/flickr; Giphy (13)