WHAT WE ARE THINKING: Petra Bryce asks ‘Do you recognise yourself here?’

Article published on April 1, 2016.

I have a confession to make: I’m a hopeless bookaholic – despite the fact that I have literally dozens of new and crisp books (or second-hand copies in good condition) unread on my book shelves, I still can’t resist the temptation of picking up the odd title from a charity shop or a high street bookshop. This prompted a discussion with my husband, when, just after Christmas, we went to a well-known high street book retailer and I had picked out not one, but two new books in the space of about 5 minutes, in spite of having been presented with two titles on Christmas Day. So how do I choose what to buy?

I noticed that I buy very differently depending on whether I’m browsing physical copies or shopping online. While I certainly get ideas for new books from internet sources (e.g. publishers’ and high street retailers’ newsletters, ‘helpful’ Amazon suggestions, Librarything’s automatic recommendations or Nudge’s selection of available titles to review), when I enter a physical shop I never know whether I will actually come out of it with a purchase or not; this very much depends on what’s on offer in the store and what I remember having noted as being of potential interest. Additionally, there is much pleasure to be gained just browsing along the shelves and tables in a bookshop, picking up the odd copy where perhaps the front cover – with a combination of image and font – has caught my eye; and because I can easily spend 15 or 20 minutes just browsing in what I consider pleasant surroundings, I don’t mind paying a little more than if I had bought that book online. In contrast, when I shop for books online, I almost always already know what I want, and only use the site’s search engine to find a particular book. The time I spend online is minimal: it’s usually just a case of logging in, putting what I want into my shopping trolley and completing the purchase.

As such I feel there is room for both physical book/charity shops and online retailers in my life: one where I enjoy the whole process of browsing and the thought that I might buy something, and a process that’s almost entirely functional when I shop for a title online. Now if only I had more time to actually read the books that are on my shelves!


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