A couple of years ago I made a new year's resolution to spend the entire year without buying any new books. I can't remember exactly what inspired this: possibly I was feeling poor, possibly I was disillusioned with what the bookshops had to offer. I have to admit that during the year I bought a handful for my bookclub, but I did try to get secondhand ones, and of course I read the new books I bought for the girls, but I don't really think that was cheating, was it?
So instead of being tempted by Waterstone's 3-for-2s or Amazon's startlingly low prices (sure to keep authors in penury), I plundered the attic, rereading favourites and giving rejects a second chance, I picked up things I'd missed the first time round in the library, and I trawled through my mother-in-law's packed shelves.
You already know how I feel about rereading, so clearly that part was hardly challenging (though whether I could only reread for an entire year is another question). As to the rest, that expression 'the cream always rises to the top' springs to mind. I don't think I'm all that given to such expressions, but funnily enough, I was just using this one this morning to Robert, as Chris Evans interviewed Neil Diamond who had emerged from the graveyeard that is 70s easy listening to prove himself a stayer. The point is that as time passes, the books no-one ever reads disappear off the shelves, both in the library and at home, to make way for new books. The stayers are the ones people still read, and they tend to read them because they're good. Look at the output of many modern popular authors: a book a year, every year, more in some cases, for year after year. They have to; it's how they make their living. But no matter how good they are, they're not all equally good. Now take the equivalent 100 years ago: E Nesbit. She was prolific, writing for both children and adults, but fewer than ten of her books spring immediately to mind (and none of them is for adults). Somewhere along the line, the less popular have gone from the publishers' lists, from library shelves, from collective memory. You may still find them tucked away in secondhand shops, but if you buy them imagining you have an undiscovered treasure, you're likely to be disappointed (as I know).
So, having sung the praises of my experiment, perhaps it doesn't seem like such a challenge. Maybe not, but I can't tell you how thrilled I was to get a good pile of glossy new books for my birthday and for Christmas!