Sunday, October 16, 2011

Buy Versus Borrow

If certain authors interviewed are typical, the extensive information in our personal writing libraries could spin a genius into overload. We've saved writers' magazines, newsletters, and Internet downloads. We've fattened file folders with handwritten notes made at workshops and lectures. Additionally, we've each purchased at least 25 books to help us hone our craft.

Why do we buy when we can borrow?

“The joy of buying a book is difficult to describe,” said Joan Sikes. Joy.... can there be a better reason to browse the book stores and pick out a favorite title? And considering short print runs, isn't it prudent to quickly grab items high on your wish list?

Of course needs usually come before wants. Despite information on the internet, most writers consider these three necessities: a dictionary, thesaurus, and manual of style. But our 22 other books are not just fluff. Many are hard-to-find or frequently-used glossaries. I keep my Illustrated Reverse Dictionary close to my computer. Also in the “buy and keep” category are special dictionaries for authors working in particular genres: a rhyming dictionary for the poet, a biblical concordance for the writer of daily devotions.

Some of us buy because we wouldn't think of marking a book we didn't own. We don't merely read, we use pages—highlighting parts in neon yellow and pink, creasing corners with dog ears and scribbling comments in margins. And as writers shouldn’t we support each other and buy books for gifts? Deborah Elliott-Upton thinks so, and said she’ll purchase several of the same title if on sale, and give them away at her workshops.

About loaning books from their personal collections, some permit borrowing only from close friends, and others said “not at all.” Their reasons are not due to selfishness, but because it may not be possible to replace a lost book. That makes Joan Sikes’ philosophy all the more endearing: “We are charged with helping one another,” she said. “If I have a book that will help someone, I don’t hesitate to loan it.”

But before you pester a generous friend like Joan for a list of her titles, check your public library. Unlike bookstores, libraries keep their purchases long after a book is no longer in print. If you wanted, but resisted Writers’ Digest Book Club selections like Picture Writing, the 400-page Writer’s Guide to Places, and others, you may find them at your public library. Borrow when you need just a bit of information. For example, if the next place for a character in your story is the undertaker’s check out Murder and Mayhem if it’s available. With author Dr. D. P. Lyle’s expert advice, you’ll know whether your creation has time for a hospital visit between the ambulance gurney and coffin.

Deborah Elliott-Upton said “the Internet has largely replaced the library for me. It’s easier and faster.” Buy versus borrow? Today the Internet is more than a research tool. You can read full texts, including illustrations, of thousands of books right from your computer. Think of it—all those books for a few clicks. It can’t get better than that.

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