I take pictures in bookstores. Is that wrong?

I don’t think I’m doing anything wrong… and yet I find myself feeling like I need to either hide or defend my actions, which would seem to indicate a disturbance in my good-conscience field.

I guess I didn’t realize just how often I end up taking pictures of books in bookstores until I was doing some clean-up of the photos on my IPhone, and found just a staggering number of these:


paris wife invention frankenstein expeditioners dovekeepers buncle bday boys bananasscurvysylviahouse on fire

All photos taken by me, in various bookstores, over the course of a couple of weeks. Some for me, some for my grown-up daughter, some for my 10-year-old son.

So what’s the deal? Well, look, let’s accept the premise that we can’t all buy everything we want. Limited dollars, limited space, limited amounts of time in which to actually, you know, read books. So I go, I peruse, I browse, I skim. I rarely walk out of a bookstore empty-handed. But chances are, for every single book I buy, I can probably find at least ten more that I want.

In ancient days of yore (i.e., before I had a smart phone), I used to actually take notes. Like with a pen and piece of paper. Which often was a deposit slip torn out of the back of my checkbook. Which is the thing I used to carry around in my purse before electronic bill pay. Oooh, I am so going down a rabbit hole here.

Back to the here and now. Can I help it if it’s quicker and easier to take a pic instead of pawing through my bag for a real-live (well, inanimate, to be honest) writing implement?

Look, I go into a bookstore, I see stuff I want. And if I see stuff I want, I want to remember said stuff. And chances are I won’t, because there’s too much other stuff clogging up my brain’s hard-drive at the moment.

So I take pictures of the books I want to remember. Maybe I just want to look them up later on and get a better sense of whether they’re for me. Maybe I’ve never heard of the book, but hey! it’s blurbed by an author I like! Maybe it’s something that sounds like something I’ll want to read eventually… but I might not get to it this year – or next – or quite possibly the one after that.

So I take pictures. And maybe when I get home I’ll check to see if any of the books that caught my eye are available at the library. Or possibly, next time I’m in my local used bookstore, I’ll look at the pictures to see if I can find them on the shelves. Or perhaps I’ll just add the books to my Goodreads to-read shelf, and maybe not think about them again for a few months. And yes, there might be one or two that down the road, I end up ordering from Amazon.

I think the fact that I’m writing all this is a pretty strong indicator that I have mixed feelings about the matter. After all, I want brick-and-mortar bookstores to survive and thrive. I love being able to pop in, browse, see what’s out now, see what pretty or unusual covers catch my eye. But honestly, I’m just not going to spend a ton on any given bookstore visit… but I will (oh, 9 times out of 10) buy something.

I solemnly swear that I am not using the absolutely evil scan function on my Amazon app, which I believe only exists in order to tempt us to pick up a book in the bookstore, scan it, see how much cheaper it is on Amazon, and then walk out of the store and order it online. That’s just wrong.

For the record, most of the above photos were taken over the course of a single weekend spent on a little getaway with my daughter, who loves hanging out in bookstores just as much as I do. Some of the photos are for her, some for me. We visited about five bookstores during our weekend, during which I bought her one brand-new copy of The Hobbit, ten used books (everything from Isabel Allende to good old Tolstoy), and one used book for myself (Daphne du Maurier’s My Cousin Rachel). After the weekend, I sent two of the books pictured above to my daughter (via used bookstores), found used copies of a couple more for myself, and put in a request at the library for one more. As for the rest? I’d like to remember to come back to them at some point, but don’t need to read them right now.

So am I hurting bookstores by browsing a lot, buying a little, and taking lots of photos for future reference? Is this any different than my old habit of writing down zillions of book titles every time I’d enter a bookstore? I don’t think I’m causing any harm… but then why do I feel guilty?

5 thoughts on “I take pictures in bookstores. Is that wrong?

  1. As long as you aren’t bothering someone, I don’t see the problem. It’s no different then trying on clothes and taking photos to see if you actually look good in them or to show to a friend for input.

    • I appreciate the perspective. I suppose because there’s so much focus on bookstores being driven out of business by online sellers, I don’t want the nice bookstore people to feel like I’m taking advantage of them!

  2. I am guilty too, but i don’t see it as wrong, im not taking pictures of the text, just the cover for future reference, or to show a family member, have you got this one yet? for example. But sometimes i do feel like i am doing wrong, i don’t think i am.
    Thanks for the interesting post ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Thanks for your comment! I guess it still bothers me (just a teeny bit) when I take pictures of a book that I want to remember for future reference and I get a nasty look from the store employee — suspecting me of browsing in the store and then looking for cheaper prices online. Which, admittedly, stores have to deal with a lot, but for the most part, I just want to remember the book!

      • Same with me, i am a very visual person and like to see a picture of it, to remind myself of said book, i agree that sometimes, needs must and everything when the money is tight, but there is nothing like walking into a book and shop smelling the books in the air and enjoying the atmosphere ๐Ÿ™‚
        Thank you for your response, was a pleasure ๐Ÿ™‚

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