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Too Many Books–Is There Such a Thing?

2013 January 11

Well, according to the brilliant Edward Gorey, no, there is no such thing as too many books. Normally, I would agree with this sentiment. Which is why my bookcases are stuffed to capacity and I’m STILL buying more books. But then I read Michael Bourne’s essay at the Millions about his New Year’s Resolution–to read FEWER books.

I know I talk all the time about reading. And it’s true, I love reading. Always have. If I don’t get at least an hour of reading time every day, I get cranky. And yet. Bourne lists some very compelling reasons to start looking at my reading patterns with a more critical eye. Here are a few signs that I may be reading too many books:

  • See above statement about getting cranky if I don’t get enough reading time. This is a sign of addiction, people.
  • I compulsively keep my “to read” shelf on Goodreads updated. Every time I get a book recommendation, see an interesting book at the bookstore, read a good review, I throw the book on my “to read” shelf. Current “to read” count? 170 books. And it keeps GROWING. While on the one hand, there is never a time where I feel I don’t know what to read next; on the other hand, it also leads to a rather crushing sense of guilt that I will never be able to read EVERYTHING I want to read. Reading shouldn’t be about guilt!
  • Part of this compulsion to constantly be reading is due, in part, as Bourne elaborates, to a competitive spirit. Yes, I record what I read on Goodreads, and here on the blog, so people can see what I’m reading. But it’s not about showing off or reading more books than others in that social network. It’s more about seeing how many books I can read, how many pages I can fit in before work, how many classics I can get through. Again, not a healthy compulsion.
  • One of my Christmas gifts from Joe was a subscription to The New Yorker, which I’m quite excited about (the first issue came this week!). While I’m really looking forward to reading it, there’s also a part of me that’s panicking about how I’ll manage to read all of them–it’s a weekly magazine! And how will I split my reading time between books and The New Yorker??  I can’t quite seem to accept that it’s okay if I don’t read EVERY issue from cover to cover, and it’s also okay to put down the book for a day or two. It will be there.
  • Reading is good for you. It’s a really good hobby to have, I would argue. However, for me, it can stand in the way of other activities which would also be good for me. Not just cleaning the apartment or running errands, but things like taking walks or calling friends.
  • For me, and for Bourne, reading is a crutch–a safe excuse to prevent me from sitting down to write or work on other projects. After all, reading helps your writing right? Yeah, not if you’re not actually doing any writing at all, ever.
Those are just a few of the reasons why I am thinking about my reading habit. How about you? Do you think there’s such a thing as too many books?
4 Responses Post a comment
  1. Raquel permalink
    January 11, 2013

    We clearly just need to change the laws of physics and make it so that we have more hours in a day! 😉 (And perhaps less devices to distract us….!)

    I like this idea of reading fewer books and have started to implement it. I used to HATE giving up on a book, even if I disliked it. Now I read for a bit, and if it’s no good, I say, “I’m done with you,” and move on to something better. I do tend to now limit my reading time to a bit in the morning and a bit at night, so I am also more discerning in what I choose to pick up and delve into. I periodically prune my Goodreads “to read” list of titles that I can’t remember why I added in the first place. That helps keep anxiety at bay.

    I have never subscribed to the New Yorker for the very reasons you mentioned, and have talked to many others who have experienced the same anxiety. SO MUCH TO READ EVERY SEVEN DAYS. I wonder what Harold Ross would think, in the afterlife, about the great anxiety his publication produces in modern-day readers!

    Good luck on your quest to less is more! Share with us how it goes.

    • Jill permalink
      January 15, 2013

      I’ve started abandoning books as well. Life’s too short, as they say! I also prune my “to-read” shelf every once in a while–it’s like cleaning out your closet–so therapeutic!

      I actually just told Joe, upon seeing our second issue of The New Yorker on the kitchen table, that I’m really glad he got me the subscription, because I am going to enjoy reading it, and it’s something I would have been too afraid to get for myself. Maybe it would be worth a shot!

  2. January 12, 2013

    I can’t imagine ever resolving to read less, but I do deal with some of the issues you describe. I built a massive book list for myself after reading Nancy Pearl’s Book Lust, and as I come across other interesting recommendations I add them to the list, which is now very long. Whenever I finish a book on my list, I change the font color according to how much I liked it. I also will highlight in pink any author I’d like to read more of. This is all very absorbing and enjoyable, but I’ve become compulsive about it. It’s actually difficult for me to spontaneously grab an interesting-looking book at the library that’s not on my list. And I absolutely, postivively MUST have my reading times in the morning before going to work and in the evening before going to sleep. I get up an hour earlier than I need to in order to have this time. OCD a bit, but I really do love this ritual.

    • Jill permalink
      January 15, 2013

      Wow, it sounds like you have quite a system! I like the idea of coding the list according to how much you enjoyed the book and whether you want to read more of a particular author. It’s important to have rituals, especially in the mornings, when the world can seem like a brutal place!

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