alms for writers

Between the children and I, we read upwards of a hundred books a month, all of which come from the public library.

It has bothering me as of late that although the using library is obviously good and noble, and I think everyone should go to the library (and try to be as quiet as possible while doing it), having a book borrowed a thousand times on a one time purchase does not fairly compensate an author for his or her work.  This does pose a bit of a dilemma since I have a hard time believing that writers can subsist on inspiration and public drinking fountains alone and I suspect that they need, in addition to the basics of life, to pay off student loans and technological gadgets on which to write and play minesweeper.  In addition, and I may be generalizing here, but all writers need funds for coffee at Starbucks and to rent atmospheric cabins in the woods where they can finish their book while encountering all sorts of semi-feral violent lunatics that make it into the movie about the writing of the book.

If writers are not able to afford food, coffee and cabins, they may have to find another line of work. Which would obviously force me to make some unwelcome and difficult lifestyle changes in which I actually pay attention to what is happening around me.  I don't want to do that and I think that those around me, namely my children, would resent me if I started taking an interest in what they're up to.  They'd probably be a in a great deal of trouble.

In addition to feeling guilty for making the smallest possible contribution to the financial support of writers, I also have a subversive relationship with our local bookstore.  I like to go in, browse, and write down the titles that catch my interest.  Then I go off my library and either check them out there.

Yesterday I was browsing the bookstore and discovered that I had forgotten my notebook.  While rooting around in my purse, searching for the nonexistent notebook, a clerk came up to asked if he help.  (Placing your hands inside your purse while looking shifty is a strategic way of attracting sales clerk's attention.  Sometimes, in cavernous outlet shops, it is the only way to find help.) 

'Yes,' I say, 'Do you have a piece of paper?' 

Apparently, he not often asked the question because he wasn't sure where he could find one.  He also failed to try to sell me one of the hundreds of slickly designed, overpriced notebooks featuring owls and amusing archaic government slogans. I'm not sure I would hire him if he wanted to work in my bookstore.

Instead of just saying thank you and letting it drop, I actually sent him to the children's section to see if there was any used bits of coloured on paper at the activity table that I could make my list on.  He was sport, even when he came empty handed just in time for me to send him back again to see if there was a pencil or crayon as well.

I did manage, while the poor clerk was off sifting through the children's materials for a paper and crayon, to find a pen in my purse and pulled out the bookmark from a library book I happen to have with me.  Incidentally, the bookmark was a paper twoonie coin roller.  You can Google it if you are not from Canada and have not made a study of the inanities of Canadian coins.

When the clerk returned, I showed him my findings, told him I felt this was adequate and thanked him for his time.  He gave me a puzzled, 'You're welcome' and wandered off to be ineffectual for other customers.  Or people who look like they may be customers but are really there just to case out what they should get from a less expensive and more environmentally responsible purveyor of literature.

I feel like I should post a picture of something at some point in this post so here is my list of memoir titles I want to pick up at the library:

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The point of all this is to see if anyone out there has any ideas on how to compensate and demonstrate appreciation for writers with out actually, you know, spending a lot of money that I do not have.

Maybe supporting government actions that finance the arts and provide grants?  Trying to take out as many books from the library as possible at any given time so that more room is provided on the shelves for them to purchase more books?  (Circulation is one way to increase volume without adding more space.)  What about sending really nice thank you notes to authors and make a small personal contribution to their coffee fund?  How much does a writer receive for each copy sold anyway?  So many things I don't know.

While you figure it all out for me, I'm going off to read blogger Jenny Lawson's memoir, Let's Pretend This Never Happened (which features all sorts of little animals doing human-y things and even a raccoon in pants which, if you've been reading this blog for a bit, you'll know I can not resist).  Bloggers are one group of writers that have been able to find a way to receive compensation for their efforts and those who are particularly successful at marketing, may make enough to actually be able to write a book.

See how convoluted this is?  


  1. Take a picture with your phone of the book covers. It saves paper, and keeps the mess in your purse down!

  2. Really good idea! I actually lack a mobile phone but I do take pictures of books if I happen to have my camera with me. It is another good way to attract attention from employees.

  3. In Australia the government has a public lending scheme that is meant to provide some compensation for authors with books the library. In 2008 they paid or something like $1.4 million to Australian authors.

  4. That's such a great thing to ponder. I'm pretty sure that at some point, the thought crossed my mind about how libraries and authors work together.

    Of course, anytime I see a new book I want, I usually send all the info to the library and let them buy it. So, I suppose, I am contributing a little.

    Another thing to wonder about is the selling of books second hand. If everyone donated, re-gifted or resold their books, wouldn't that also pose a problem for authors' wallets (while being awesome for the environment?)

    I suppose that's one good thing about all those people out there who are too good for libraries and hand-me-downs. They can pay the writers.

  5. Authors also get money every time their books are borrowed in UK libraries....

  6. I've figured that libraries are one of the biggest guaranteed purchasers of books. If no one reads the books in the library then that huge customer would go away. However I do always purchase books from my favorite authors, granted the library doesn't carry as many of his books as it should.