diamond geezer

 Monday, November 17, 2008

I have a love-hate relationship with books. I love them, as you could probably tell if you saw the shelves and shelves of them in my flat. Lovely lovely books, with pages full of fascination, delight and pleasure. And I hate them, because I own far too many that I've never properly read. Dull uninspiring books, with covers that promised much but delivered little.

I do try really hard not to throw my money away on books. When mulling over a literary purchase, I always ask myself "will I actually read this, or am I merely attracted to the concept of owning a book on this subject?" I rarely buy books the instant I see them. Usually I'll carry on round the shop, or come back to the shop later, or even defer purchase to another day and maybe buy it then. I don't buy hardbacks, not unless there's absolutely no alternative. I'll often wait a year in case a book comes out in paperback, just to save a few pounds. And if a paperback costs over a tenner then I can probably resist buying it at all, because I can't cope with the concept of paperbacks costing that much.

I don't use Amazon or any equivalent online services for book purchasing purposes. I know that they sell books rather cheaper than in the shops, but once you add postage and packing the price soon creeps up again. It's also too easy to get carried away click- click- click-ing and to end up buying a whole bundle of books you don't really need. I won't buy a book I haven't physically seen, because that's just courting disappointment. Oh, and it's impossible to fit a book-sized package through my letterbox anyway, so Amazon's stuffed.

However, my existing collection of books contains far too many volumes best described as "a waste of money". Some of these have been bought for me. Somebody saw a book, thought I'd like it and wrapped it up, hoping they'd scored a literary bullseye. And they were wrong, even though I tried very hard to conceal that at the time of unwrapping. Other failures I bought myself. "Ooh that looks interesting," I thought. Maybe I'd been drawn in by a catchy title, or an alluring cover design, or tempting subject matter. Almost certainly I'd flicked rapidly through the book in the shop and thought "yes, it looks like there's plenty worth reading in here." But it turned out I was wrong.

To illustrate this point I'd like to introduce the concept of a Book Value Index (BVI), measured in "minutes per pound". Take the cost of a book, then tot up how long has been spent actually reading it, and divide one by the other. A great book costs a little and gets read a lot, so has a high BVI. And a poor book costs a lot and is barely read at all, so has a low BVI. Let me illustrate with four typical books from my shelf.

» Book 1 cost £7.99, and I've read it once. I'm quite a fast reader, so I knocked it off in three hours flat. That's 180 minutes for £8, which equates to 22 minutes per pound. [BVI=22]
» Book 2 cost £6.99, and I've read it twice. A story has to be pretty good for me to read it again. That's six hours for £7, which equates to 50 minutes per pound. [BVI=50]
» Book 3 cost £10, and I've skimmed through it once, taking no more than half an hour. That's 30 minutes for £10, which equates to only 3 minutes per pound. [BVI=3]
» Book 4 also cost £10, and it's one of those special Christmas gift books so often bought as a stocking filler. I've flicked through it once, a few minutes after I unwrapped it. Ha ha, yes, funny, flick, yeah and that, flick, done. And never again. That's five minutes for £10, which equates to a feeble 30 seconds per pound. [BVI=0.5]

I need to try to buy more books with BVI>20, and to avoid buying more turkeys with BVI<5. It's just so hard to predict which is which before I get them home. Yes, I know I really ought to join my local library, because that way books are free and my BVI is therefore infinite. But in the meantime, if you're thinking of buying me a book for Christmas, be warned. I'll probably smile, glance through it and then stick it on a shelf, never to be glanced through again. And I'd hate you to waste your money on another BVI=½.

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