Thursday, June 16, 2011

On not buying anything today at the wonderful HBW

"I'm a bibliophile / and I also know what that means" - Even Hoshen

Hebrew Book Week or HBW (Hebrew site) is... awesome. Once a year, for a week and a half, my book-loving self finally gets to drag the others around me into the insanity of book-buying. There's nothing quite like it. A normally literate but unenthusiastic country turns into a gushing bibliophile within a few hours. Advertisements for the two leading bookstore chains line the bus stops. Signs point to the nearest fairground. Almost everyone in the street carries a plastic bag from either the bookstores or the publishers.

Instead of buying books, I collected catalogs
I could ramble about the many practical and beautiful aspects to HBW (and I will), but I want to focus on today's visit and that one, glorious fact: I did not purchase a single book.

This is, of course, a bizarre and unheard of notion. What's the point, one might ask, of a week and a half of book fairs and sales (3 for the price of 2! Buy 1 get 2 free! Buy 2 get 2 free! All books half price!*) if I didn't buy anything now?

I recently read an article about HBW that asked how relevant it is now that the bookstores offer year-round sales and deals (in response to a statistic that showed that only** 44% of Israelis plan to attend the events). My answer is simple: you don't go to HBW just to get cheap books. You go for the experience. You go for the crick in your neck from bending down to stare at so many books. You go to chat up the teens and adults who try to push you the popular bestsellers but after a few moments break down and recommend the really good books. You go to see authors signing books one minute and patiently listening to their kids' excited gush about a book they just discovered the next. You go for the joy of finding like-minded folk - people who love books, love literature and love this culture of reading we're working so hard to maintain.
"Reserved for HBW 2011" ad as mentioned here

Only after all these do you actually go to buy books. The books are the cookies on top of the ice-cream sundae. And boy, do I want those cookies.

Today I walked around with a small notepad. Because I went with a friend, I didn't have quite as many opportunities to talk to authors and the booksellers*** but I managed to scribble down a long and thorough list of books that interest me. Do they all fall in line with the deals? Probably not. But I'll buy more books than I really want and at the end of the day, I'll probably find some gems hidden in the stacks of bestselling thrillers, religious texts and wonderfully nostalgic kids books.

Really heavy, but the back ache was worth it...
By not buying anything today, all I had "going for me" was the experience. And you know what? It was worth it. Even though I didn't get that author signature I was hoping for, even though I didn't make it to all the publisher booths (my friend isn't quite as obsessive as me and after a long day, grew rather tired), even though I didn't get into any in-depth conversations with booksellers, even though I didn't buy anything... there's no doubt about it. HBW isn't about the sales. It's about the literary experience. Isn't that just wonderful?

* Real sales
** "Only" being, of course, a relative term. I'm sure if 44% of Americans attended such events, it would be considered monumental. Israel prides itself in HBW's influence and wide-spread appeal - 44% attendance is a somewhat embarrassing decrease, apparently.
*** I don't like using the term "bookseller" because the association is of a seller in a bookstore, but that's the most accurate description of these guys. They're sellers... of books.


  1. Oh wow! I admire your restraint when it comes to not buying any books! I can't even go into the library without hitting the sale table, and I have been banned by my husband from trading in books at the used bookstore because I always some home with more than I trade in! I am going to have to take a cue from you and use some willpower when it comes to book buying this summer. Lord knows, I don't need anymore books right now!

  2. That's a lot of restraint in not buying anything! But all those catalogs, they will be very dangerous is my guess :)


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