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Bookish Discussions: The Privilege of Owning Books

Privilege of books

Recently, with the floods in India, earthquakes in Mexico, and hurricanes devastating Dominica, Puerto Rico, and other islands in the Caribbean, I’ve been thinking a lot about how much of our lives revolve around physical possessions, and how lucky we are to be able to own books.

Most of us will live in countries where natural disasters are rare and capitalism is the stronghold of contemporary society. Essentially, this means the majority of companies are privately owned, and we work and earn money so we can spend it on investments and possessions, which aren’t going to be suddenly destroyed or taken away from us.

And for most of us in the book community, what we choose to spend our money on is books in all their various forms. Audiobooks, e-books, webcomics, paperbacks, and hardbacks. For many of us, it’s the latter two that we mainly buy because there’s something so good about owning physical books.

And there’s nothing wrong with this of course. If you work hard to earn money, then by rights you should be allowed to spend it on what you want when you’re able. And it’s wonderful to be able to see photos of someone’s bookshelves, all deliciously full of books and merchandise. To see four or five bookcases lined up and full of colourful spines makes me sigh a little in contentment; it’s clear that the person collecting the books passionate about reading and have spent time, love, and effort collecting them.

But sometimes I think we forget, in our excitement for new releases, and desire to take Insta-worthy photos, how privileged we are to be able to own books.

To have enough disposable income to be able to spend any left over on books each month is a distinct privilege. Many people don’t earn a fair or living wage and don’t have enough money for luxuries such as this. In some families, household income has to be spent on paying bills and buying food; there’s none left over for treats such as books.

Plus, in many countries, books are fairly expensive. In Australia for example, an average paperback costs between $17 and $20 and a hardback will set you back $25-$30. Although they can often be found cheaper online, not all book outlets ship to all countries, so some people can’t purchase books in this way.

And in some countries, many popular books are banned because their political or LGBTQIA+ content has been deemed too ‘controversial’, limiting access to diverse literature for some readers who would love to try these novels. (I previously wrote about this in a post on banned books.) Additionally, not everyone has access to libraries. In the UK, there have been a notable number libraries closing down over the last couple of years, meaning that those who borrow books rather than buying them have even fewer options.

I’m not advocating that we stop buying books – far from it – I’m just saying we should all try to remind ourselves, every now and then, that we’re privileged to be able to do so. Especially those of use who are white, western, able-bodied, earn a decent financial income, and therefore have the most opportunities to buy books. I fall into that category, so this is me, checking my own privilege, and trying to do something about it.

If, like me, you want to do more to get books to those who don’t have access to them, there are plenty of ways to get involved.

  1. Donate to your local library. Many people who can’t afford books will use libraries instead and by donating your old books, your broadening the range of books they have the opportunity to read.
  2. Donate to second-hand book shops. People who can’t always afford full-price books will often buy from there instead.
  3. Donate to charities like Book Aid International. They aim to send books out to people across the world, especially in counties where books are scare. They do a lot of work setting up libraries in Africa and have a project running in the occupied territories of Palestine.
    Other great charities include The Pajama Program, a New York-based non-profit, who donate new books to children living in shelters, temporary housing, and group homes. Room To Read work with communities in developing countries to build schools and libraries filled with books. Their focus is on gender and literacy equality. Project Night Night is another excellent scheme, that donates packages to homeless children with books in.
  4. Donating to charities that do relief work in the countries affected by natural disasters, will go a long way towards helping them begin to get their lives on track and rebuild what they’ve lost.
  5. If you’re on Twitter, or other social media channels, and have some money to spare, doing a giveaway for low-income or disadvantaged readers could help get a book into the hands of someone who otherwise wouldn’t be able to buy it.

If there are any other organisations or charities doing similar work that I’ve missed off this list, definitely let me know and I’ll add them to the list. 

Until next time, Kate

12 thoughts on “Bookish Discussions: The Privilege of Owning Books

  1. Ohmigosh, thanks for the book donating recommendations! I always want to donate my books to those that would love them and cherish them like I did but I never really knew who to donate them too! So I really appreciate this post! And I completely agree. Although it’s great to have books in our possession, there are more important things in life like friends and family or pets that can’t be replaced like a lost book.

    1. Libraries are wonderful, and I’ve always appreciated the fact that I’ve been able to access them and borrow books that I might not be able to afford or find elsewhere. I’m going to have another unhaul soon and donate to my library and local charity bookshop. 🙂

  2. I’m really glad you wrote this post and linked it in your October/November wrap up because I totally missed it the first time around. It’s such an important subject and something that I really do not think gets spoken about enough.

    I’m from a working-class background and have had a really difficult 5 years (homelessness, unemployment, ill health, etc) so it’s always been quite difficult to afford books. Some years, I would be incredibly lucky if I could even afford one book second-hand and most of my books were always gifts from christmas/birthdays which I was super lucky to get.

    I have to admit, there are times when I’m incredibly envious of some of the book people I follow or see who are really popular because of the amount of books they seem to be able to buy every month, as well as their really nice artsy pictures on instagram of their books/huge bookshelves, etc. I try not to dwell on it too much – I’m lucky that I’m better off economically now than I have ever been, and I’m lucky to have a good local library that I get a lot of my books from, but there are times when it’s still pretty difficult. I really wish more people would recognize their book privileges and do a bit more to help people out from less economically privileged backgrounds (I know many people are generous with their giveaways, it’s just even more frustrating when you see those who are able to afford books winning the giveaways as well!!).

    Sorry this has turned into a bit of a rant (maybe I should write a blog sharing my experiences instead of ranting them at your poor comments section xD)! Your post suggested some really great things, so thank you for taking the time to write it!

    1. Thank you so much for taking the time to leave this comment, it means a lot that my post resonated with you. I’m sorry you’ve had to go through such a difficult time, and I hope things are better for you now. I definitely agree that it’s a shame when books sometimes go to privileged readers instead of getting to those who are marginalised or less privileged. Especially when, as you say, many of the people in the latter groups find it difficult to afford books and don’t have the same level of access to them. Of course, I’m not trying to say that privileged readers don’t deserve books, but if they don’t win a giveaway, most of the time they can go out and buy the book instead, whereas underprivileged readers often can’t do that.

      Libraries can be an absolute godsend to people who can’t always afford to buy books outright, and that’s why it’s so important that we fight to keep as many open as possible. But I think it’s also important for readers who can afford to give books away try and get them to those who have limited access. I’m always really happy to see bloggers and vloggers doing giveaways for marginalised and under-represented teens.

      And there’s no need to apologise for having a rant! Sometimes it’s good to get these things out in the open, and I’m always keen to chat about issues like these to see what the community as a whole can be doing to improve the situation. I think writing a post sharing your own experiences is a great idea and I’d definitely want to read something like that. It’s completely up to you of course, but if you decide to, please drop me a link to it! Thanks for leaving such a heart-felt comment, I really appreciate your thoughts on the matter.

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