Too many books to read and too little time to read them. This is one of my my constant problems.
And even though I know perfectly well this is a typical first-world problem, I can’t help but to get frustrated about the way my list of to-read books keeps growing faster and faster.
So fast indeed that even if I were a sort of octoculis lectorem (this is a word I just made up) and had eight independent pairs of eyes, I would be nonetheless unable to close the gap between my literary wants and my actual reading count.
Luckily I find some solace in the notion that I’m not alone. In fact, you just have to google “book clutter”or “too many books to read” to discover this is a widespread phenomenon.
Unfortunately the aforementioned solace can go only so far. At some point one has to take things into his own hands and address the problem–even if, usually, with catastrophic results…Anyway here is my two cent about
How to avoid having too many books and too little time to read them
1) Just buy fewer books
This is a simple rule, and for a robot this would be the obvious solution. But we’re human. We’re made of flesh and mysterious juices that make our thinking processes a bit idiosyncratic to say the least. This means this solution, though simple, is not at all easy. So, keep it in mind and try to follow it, but don’t despair if you fail to follow it more often than not.
You know, once you’ve read that title, and you’ve read the blurb, and decided that’s the book you want to read, there’s no way for you to stop thinking about that damn book.
From a general point of view, addiction works the same for every “substance”. And books are no exception. Luckily you cannot sniff them. Or rather, you can, but with no discernible effects apart from the occasional sneeze.
2) Okay, so you’ve decided you have to buy a new book. Maybe even some new books
At this point you can at least try to limit the number of books you buy. Reading, like many other things in life, is not just about sheer quantity, but also about quality.
So try hard to focus on just one book you really want to buy. And promise yourself that you’ll come back the following day for the other books. In this way you might (note, I said might) be able to get the hell out the bookshop, or the website, before you dry up your hard earned savings.
Promising yourself something you know you’re not going to keep can look like a symptom of some impending mental illness. But how does it compare to being unable to eat because you spent your last dime on a used copy of a book you already own?
So soldier on and march out the bookshop with just one book you paid for. Notice the wording here. You could stuff your coat with many more books and… go to jail!
3) When you don’t know anything about something you think everything is something. Ok?
Vague writing. My editing mentor, who is myself when I’m sober, just flagged the above phrase.
Ok. Ok. New try. What I mean is that you have to understand that the mere fact of having bought a book and reading it doesn’t mean you have to go all the way with it. After all, a book can suck majestically. Even a great book. In fact it’s not just the quality of the writing that makes for a great read. It’s the way the book and the reader interact.
Sometimes things are smooth and pleasant. Some others you have to fight to reach the end of any single page.
If the latter is the case, do yourself a favor. Drop the book. You paid for it, of course (otherwise you would be in jail by now). But you paid for it hoping to be entertained or illuminated by it. Not hoping to be hammered on your toes from start to end–I mean, unless you’re a quite peculiar kind of a masochist. Or have to prepare for some of those university exams chocking full of required readings.
So, if a book isn’t working for you, and you’ve already given it a fair share of your time stop reading it.
4) Sometimes we fall in love with an author
As a result we want to read all their works. If this happens often to you, do yourself a favor, again, and choose to fall in love only with authors who have written just one book…Easier said than done, I know.
Otherwise, before you buy all the books of your preferred author, select the most representative ones and start from them.
You’ll discover that often your urge to read everything by that particular author will fade away. Especially if after the masterpieces you begin to stumble on works that are, so to speak, less than stellar.
5) Books don’t need to be written in a linear fashion
So you don’t need to read them in that way either. I’m saying this above all to point out you should feel free to skip now and then.
I mean, sometimes a book intrigues you enough to keep you reading, but you feel there are places where the pace slows down too much for your liking. So, feel free to jump over that passages like a reborn Jessie Owens. And keep in mind you can always retrace your steps at a later stage and read the missing parts if you decide to.
6) Life is asymmetric
Not necessarily in glaring ways but it is. After all our whole universe is nothing but the remains of the marginally asymmetric annihilation of matter and anti matter. Or so they say.
In any case, if you think of it, you immediately notice that perfect symmetry is kind of boring. Instead when amid such a perfect symmetry we spot a tiny bit of asymmetry, of imperfection, we start finding things interesting.
The same applies with reading lists and the books we have already read. This tension is what pushes us on. It’s what forces us to find a way to optimize our reading experience.
Because only when an experience is finite we begin to appreciate it. And the larger the disparity between our reading aspirations and our actual reading count is, the more the attention we end up paying to what we read.
So, learn to accept the fact there will always be more books you want to read than books you’ve already read. And keep reading nonetheless.