Wrestling with cold turkey – a book addict at Writers’ Week

IMG_3666 (1)I’ve been pretty blog-lax lately and while the list of books I need to write about is lengthening, I’ve realized that I’ve yet to post about how I’m coping with breaking my book-buying addiction.

To be blunt – it hasn’t been a walk in the park. Buying books (new or second-hand) used to be an intrinsic part of my week. It’s taken time and effort to counteract the reflex to buy whatever titles spark my interest. Books are so easily justified. They’re good for you. Only a die-hard anti-intellectual could possibly mount an argument against reading (and they’d be ill-advised to test their theories near me or any of my friends).

Which brings me to Adelaide Writers’ Week. I love it. It’s a highlight of my year. Seeing authors I admire in the flesh. Discovering new writers and their books. Listening to them talk about their art, ideas and process. Sometimes getting to meet them (but mostly avoiding this knowing that my default conversational setting when faced with someone I admire is gush – ugh, it’s making me cringe just thinking about it).

Anyway, as much as I love Writers’ Week, there’s a downside. I find it socially exhausting and financially draining.  It’s hard to go anywhere in Adelaide without tripping over someone you know.  At Writers’ Week, you can amplify this phenomenon by an order of magnitude. Local writers at Writers’ Week are like fleas on dogs. Lovely, friendly fleas but the point is the Pioneer Women’s Memorial Garden is infested, so you can guarantee that every moment not spent listening to a session will be spent chatting, nodding, waving or having lunch, drinks or dinner with other writers, poets or literary folk. Social exhaustion generally hits by Day Three and by the end of the week I can be found rocking on the couch in the foetal position.

Then there’s dealing with the vortex of the book tent. Or not dealing with it. Normally, I just let myself fall prey to its magnetism.  I listen to a writer. They peak my interest. I buy their book. Simple. Each night I stagger home laden like a mule with bags of books.

Not this year. This year I had a commitment not to buy any books. What was I to do? Not buying books at Writers’ Week was like promising myself not to breathe.

Clearly, I needed a plan. The answer presented itself the moment I called the problem by its true name –  addiction. How do you change your behaviour to avoid the temptation of addiction? Just like drugs, smoking or alcohol – avoid the triggers.IMG_3660

Well, crap. That’s very easily said but how to do it without depriving myself of the whole festival? I still wanted to attend the sessions and glean as much inspiration and motivation from the speakers as possible. One of my closest friends was chairing two sessions, so just staying home was out of the question.

Trigger avoidance coupled with strict time and energy management. That’s what it boiled down to in the end.

Before the week kicked off, I got out my program and highlighter pen and set to work.

Ojectives? Avoid the book tent and social exhaustion. In past years, I’ve often given myself social down time by enjoying periods of extended browsing in the book tent.  So, limiting social exhaustion would be a key element in avoiding the book tent. Drinking with friends also had a secondary consequence in that it eroded my resolve, so avoiding the bar would also be a primary goal.

The plan?

  1. Attend only 3-4 sessions a day (a morning or an afternoon).
  2. Bring my own food and drink.
  3. Ride my bike (to make sure I didn’t stay out at night or drink too much with friends – I’m an extremely wobbly rider when drunk).
  4. DO NOT ENTER THE BOOK TENT.

The result?

Success. Every day of Writers’ Week attended and not one book purchased. (However, I did add a considerable number of entries to my list of “books resisted”.)

Ok. Complete honesty.  I did enter the book tent at one point on the first day – but I did it with a friend and we went in with the sole purpose of finding and admiring her beautiful book (Barking Dogs by Rebekah Clarkson) as it sat proudly in two stacks on the table among all the Adelaide Writers’ Week titles. I can only hope that sometime in the future I see my own book/books sitting there. One day.

Time management and trigger avoidance, people. That’s how you get through Writers’ Week with money in your pocket, no hangovers and enough energy to function as an adequate human for the rest of Mad March in Adelaide. It is possible. A little sad, but possible all the same.

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The last fix

Shit is about to get real. No more browsing in bookshops. No more late night online book shopping.  From tomorrow, it will be just my bookshelves and me for a whole year.

Today I had plans to meet three old school friends for our traditional end of year catch-up. It had been my intention to practice for the Year of No Book Buying by driving down to Norwood Parade and walking right past Dillon’s Bookshop. I even visualised it the previous night before falling asleep; there I was in my mind’s eye, striding right by without even glancing at the book-laden tables outside the shop.

Now, I have to come clean. Over the last month, with the new year drawing inexorably closer, I’ve been in a book buying frenzy. Like a junkie working their way through their stash before entering rehab, I have been hitting The Book Depository hard. So many amazing titles are released just before Christmas! How am I meant to wait a whole year before reading the latest from Siri Hustvedt, Zadie Smith and Olivia Laing? Come on. I’m not superhuman.

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It was the last morning of 2016. I drove to the café. I was early. That was a mistake. Rather than choose a table, pull out my book and wait for my friends, I turned on my heel and marched straight into Dillons. I needed one last fix.

Ten minutes later I was having coffee with Sarah, Nicola and Kesta and we had one of those wonderful sessions where it feels as though no time has passed despite not seeing each other for a year. Tim Winton’s The Boy Behind the Curtain was nestled in my handbag.