Thursday, May 17, 2012

100 Days

It was freezing when I decided to refrain from buying books for 100 days.  I was suffering from some sort of literary cabin fever that required me to attempt to purchase any book whose title sounded vaguely familiar.  Bookstores around St. Louis put up pictures of me with a sign that said "Do not serve this woman".

It was with an earnest and fervent desire to become a better person that I attempted to undergo 100 days without purchasing books.  My bank account will be healthier, I reasoned.  I'll understand the value of a single book.

I did not. Instead, I spent 100 days cajoling friends and family members to purchase some book for me that I absolutely need right now.  Technically within the rules- if not the spirit- of this venture.  I obsessed over books, counted days in my planner, and attempted to read every single book I own so that I would have to buy a new book.  I did not once enter a library or borrow a book from someone else. I'm most ashamed to admit that any of the money I would have saved was spent... on dresses.  I have always hated shopping and I have no idea how this occurred. 

According to many addiction specialists, there's a difference between refraining from alcohol or drugs and "living sober".  Simply not drinking is not enough; one must create a whole and healthy lifestyle that does not have room for destructive behavior.  I was not adapting and creating a lifestyle that was pleasant and precluded purchasing books on my every whim.  I was simply not buying books.

Still, I was very technically within the guidelines I had created for myself until day 86.

I left class one night and decided to go to the delightful independent bookstore across the street. A friend of mine was kind enough to give me Blues playoff tickets so I decided to thank her with a copy of Jonah Lehrer's "Imagine", as she shares my fascination with neuropsychological books a la Oliver Sacks. 

Until this point in my endeavor, I had not actually set foot in a bookstore.  The book section in Target was difficult enough.  I had spent 45 minutes in a book alcove in the San Antonio airport over Easter weekend and nearly missed my plane, salivating over the latest Alice Hoffman book. I made the grave mistake of walking into Webster's Pudd'nhead books alone, hungry and tired.  As soon as I walked into the new releases section, I knew I would leave a fallen woman.

So I put the energy that I had into making my fall worth it. I'm still proud of my purchases: Jeanette Winterson's memoir Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal? and the recently reviewed Escape from Camp 14. I was finished with each by the end of the week. I spent one entire afternoon reading at the fountains below Art Hill in Forest Park and was contented as a cat napping in a sunny patch in the kitchen.

86 days. A season passed between when I embarked on this challenge and when I ultimately failed. I successfully completed one term of classes and I was nearly finished with another. I read nearly 30 books in that time. I only needed to wait 14 measly days; 2 puny weeks.

I've given a lot of thought to the merits of this challenge, as well as the reasons it didn't work. I think I need to first learn on a smaller scale how to curb my book impulses. I definitely need to go to the library and have my card renewed. It's one of those mundane chores that has become mythic and daunting in my mind.

I've decided that I'm going to adhere to a 5:1 ratio for the forseeable future. I must read five books that I own for every one book that I purchase. I will muster my courage and renew my library card. I've always been someone who is motivated by self-initiated challenges. Two summers ago, I biked 450 miles over the course of a couple months just to see if I could. Last week, I completed my graduate coursework in under a year; a first for my program and a feat that my adviser repeatedly assured me last fall was "impossible". So it was humbling to be felled by a relatively minor challenge.

On Day 101, I carefully selected three books to reward myself for a job relatively well done. While waiting an extra day doesn't technically make up for day 86, I think it helps. I was selective when I chose my books, hopeful that they will help me. I chose:

Night by Elie Wiesel
Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl

and, of course:
The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why it Matters, and What You Can Do to Get More of It by Kelly McGonigal

Currently reading: Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand

Books read in 2012: 46


Fiction96 said...

Your a brave soul I could not wait that long...

Diane Burton said...

LOL I wouldn't have your will power to last as long as you did. I like your 5:1 challenge. Good idea. Good luck with that.

Ethan said...

Congrats on your endurance (even if you did give in a bit). I too have fallen victim to the allure of airport book offerings. I've never taken much notice to the one in SA, probably because my flights from there tend to be too early in the morning, but I have nearly missed connecting flights in Dallas as I browse through novels.

It seems like you have some great reads ahead of you. I really enjoyed reading Unbroken. Good luck with the 5:1 thing. It sounds like a good way to keep yourself in check.


Erin Seals said...

Thanks, guys!

Ethan, I read "Unbroken" on your recommendation. I read the first 300 pages the day I cracked it open. Thank you!!!

Jonathan Wilhoit said...

86 days is still damn good. If you made it that long, at least you accomplished the spirit of your goal, if not the letter.

Books are there for our enjoyment. Buck up!

Ryan said...

Congrats! You (mostly) did it!

Ethan said...

I thought you would enjoy it! I devoured in in one day.

Anonymous said...

Congratulations! I don't think I could survive that 86/100 days! I usually can go 30 days and then have to go a little nuts with purchases. Good luck with 5:1!

Erin Seals said...

Hahaha, thanks guys!