“If thou of fortune be bereft
and in thy store there be but left
two loaves, sell one, and with the dole,
buy hyacinths to feed thy soul.”
— John Greenleaf Whittier
I’m not a huge fan of poetry, but I sure like these lines from Whittier. I first learned of them years ago in some book or other about teatime. I instantly understood the meaning, which is basically that we need sustenance for the soul just as surely as we need sustenance for the body.
And that brings me to the topic of writer groceries. Every year at this time, I find myself totaling the amounts I’ve spent on writing-related books and magazines in the past year so all these purchases can be reported to Uncle Sam on my taxes. Did I really need one more book about the writing craft? Or another book on plotting? And the answer is yes. Yes I did. I needed to know more about the mechanics of grammar. I needed to know more about how to write snappy dialogue. I needed to know how to create the basic plot structure of a cozy mystery, and all of these topics have come to me in the form of books. I have termed such purchases writer groceries, and I no longer feel guilty about them.
Few things make me sadder than to hear someone say, “I have too many books.” Do we ever believe that we have too many ideas? Too many moments of sheer joy? Too many hopes for a better future? Too many insights into the ways of the world? Too many epiphanies? Then we can never have too many books, because books inspire such things.
(I do not argue, however, that we might not occasionally run out of room for all of our books, but this is why God gave us bookshelves and Kindles, right?)
So if you find yourself purchasing a lot of writer groceries as well, I say, lighten up on yourself. Just as there should always be room in life for one more friend, there should always be room for one more book. Books are our hyacinths for the soul, and Uncle Sam will just have to understand.