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Why do people buy books they don’t read?

So many of us have collections of unread books collecting dust. Why do we do this? And should we?

By Austin Blessing-Nelson (Blessing)Published 10 months ago 3 min read
Top Story - May 2024
Why do people buy books they don’t read?
Photo by Henry Be on Unsplash

We have all likely been guilty of buying or keeping books we know we will probably never read, and maybe never intended to read. I know I have certainly been guilty of this! And you certainly are not alone, it seems much of society prefers buying and having books over actually reading them. Indeed, one survey found that an average of half of the over one hundred books in an average home go unread.

This fact was first brought to my attention by one of my favorite forwards I’ve ever read in a book, which was the forward to the “Adam Ruins Everything” book. The forward, like this article, discussed the fact that many people buy books that never get read and touched on some of the reasons why. The forward, in a humorous way, concludes that you will probably never read the book (which is largely a summary of the tv show’s episodes) and posits that perhaps you shouldn’t read it (but that maybe you should buy it anyway).

Ok, so it is a fact that a lot of people buy books they will never read. But the real question is, why do we do this? And should we do it?

One theory is that a lot of times we buy books as a way to showcase our values and interests to the world, or at least to our houseguests. Additionally, as discussed in the “Adam Ruins Everything” book, having certain books on display can also remind us of our own values and interests, and encourage us to pursue them. So it is likely that, even if we don’t always realize it, we buy a lot of books purely for decoration, which is not a bad thing because the decorations we choose often have meanings and are meant to convey things about us to friends and ourselves, such as what we like, where we’ve been, what our values are, etc.

Having books just to display them can definitely be a good thing. Besides the aesthetic appeal of using books as decorations, there is some evidence that having books, even ones that will go forever unread, can have benefits and can enrich your life. Put succinctly, having unread books can remind you that while you may know a great many things, there is a great deal more you do not yet know. This in turn can encourage and push you to do and learn more. Of course, actually reading some of your books is important too, and reading has many additional benefits. But just because you may not read every book you own, does not mean that those books don’t serve a purpose.

Also, I personally, sometimes treat books, particularly really old or rare ones, like collectibles. Even if I never plan to read them, I want them either just to have them or for decoration. Better that the book being sold at an estate sale that has been in an attic for decades wind up on my shelf then damaged or destroyed (or on someone else’s shelf!). Sometimes I do sell rare books too.

Of course, a lot of times the answer is as simple as you did intend to read the book when you bought it, but you never got around to it for one reason or another and you either still plan to read it one day, or it no longer suits your interests (and this you likely will never read it) but you don’t want to get rid of it. Although if you do have books you want to get rid of, consider finding a place to donate them to.

In conclusion, of course you should make it a habit to try and read regularly and you should buy books that interest you. But next time someone calls you out on all the books you own but haven’t read, inform them that not only is that extremely common, but may actually be beneficial!


About the Creator

Austin Blessing-Nelson (Blessing)

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Comments (15)

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  • angela hepworth10 days ago

    Very relatable Top Story!

  • Kay Husnick13 days ago

    I've been trying to only buy books I know I will read and want to keep/re-read lately, and I'm using the library for everything else. Book swaps have been great for sustainably getting rid of the books I know I won't read.

  • Anna 13 days ago

    Congrats on Top Story!

  • Caroline Jane13 days ago

    Great story. Very relatable. The books unread in my house are usually ones I have started and then gotten bored with. Generally, I am too disorganised to send to charity shops etc!

  • Me, who just bought three books by Vocal authors in the last few days: 😮

  • Rav Oldej13 days ago

    Several explanations have been proposed to explain this phenomenon, namely "why do we buy books that we never read?" An interesting idea is that we buy books to display our values and interests to ourselves and our guests. This theory could be enriched with concrete examples or psychological studies on consumer behavior. Additionally, the article suggests that owning books, even if unread, can be beneficial by reminding us of our aspirations and serving as meaningful decorations. This is an original perspective that deserves to be developed further with additional arguments, such as testimonials or research on the psychological benefits of book ownership. Thank you very much for sharing.

  • The Dani Writer13 days ago

    What an interesting concept for a story! Congratulations on making TS!

  • Kalina Bethany13 days ago

    Great piece!!!

  • Gerard DiLeo13 days ago

    Guilty as charged.

  • Ameer Bibi13 days ago

    Thank you for bringing light on a frequent tendency many of us have: purchasing books that we may never read. Your story made me think about my bookshelves. I also have many books, and even my children have many books; at least now, I will try to ask them and me to read those books first. It deserves to be a top story.

  • Brenda Fluharty13 days ago

    I have many books that I have read and may want to read again.

  • This is a thing with me, I have pieles of unread books, and god knows how much on my Kindle, plus CDs and records I have yet to play. We buy because we want to support the author/artists and we would like to read when we get time. Excellent article.

  • Christy Munson19 days ago

    I have a lot of books I've not yet read because my family members and I trade the books we've read and I get busy with life and can't keep up. But I always bring books to new readers when I've finished with them unless I expressly connect with the work and cannot part with it. There are probably 200 books I cannot relinquish, but even those I loan to trusted reader friends. Good idea for an article.

  • Jazzy 9 months ago

    I use to have over 100 books but found that it made me sad that they were wasting away; so I sold them so there's a chance someone else will read them. I do keep a couple of my favorites however!

  • Clever&WTF10 months ago

    I'm so guilty of this! I have 2 full bookshelves of the books I have yet to read 😊

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