Saturday, January 14, 2017

So Many Books, So Little Time


I have 404 books in the TBR collection on my Kindle. In case you don’t know, TBR stands for To Be Read. I have three bookshelves of print books I want to read. I’m not including several non-fiction books I own for reference purposes that I’d really like to read in full “someday.” Nor am I including books on my private Amazon Wish List or on my For Later shelf at the library.

I figure that even if I gave up watching television, movies, and writing my own novels so I could read most of the day, it would take me four or five years to get through all the books I already own. That’s assuming I don’t add any more books to either my Kindle or my shelves, an almost impossible task since people, both in real life and online, are always recommending books that sound so good I want to read them as soon as possible.

I didn’t use to have this problem. Growing up, I didn’t see a bookstore until I was in junior high, what is now the upper grades of middle school, and I only saw one then because my English teacher wanted us to read a book we had to buy and told us where the bookstore was. My mother had to drive me there.

My mother took us to the library every other Saturday (my grandfather visited on the other weekends), where I checked out the maximum of six books at a time. Once we got home, all of us sat in the living room reading our “new” books. On very special Christmases or birthdays, we’d sometimes get a book as a present. That’s how I discovered the Bobbsey Twins and Nancy Drew.

One of the best things about going to college was finding all the bookstores not only on campus but in town. I discovered the joy of casual browsing of new titles and then carefully selecting the one or two paperbacks I could afford.

When I got married and moved to a small town with an even smaller library, I joined the Science Fiction Book Club, got the free books and bought the requisite number of paid books (and maybe a few more), then canceled my subscription. I reread those treasured purchases several times over the course of the next few years.

I finally got a job where I could afford to buy books of my own on a regular basis. And Barnes and Noble and Borders built superstores in the suburbs, often on my way home from my job, and I was back to browsing the tables at the front and the racks at the back and leaving with a shopping bag full of brand new books. But that tended to be self-limiting, too, because how many books can you take home at a time?

And then there was Amazon. And ebooks. Suddenly, there really was no limit. Add the indie author explosion and the ability to download books for free, and things got totally out of control.

I find it hard to read longer, more complicated books lately because of “Squirrel!” syndrome. If a book doesn’t grab me right away, or the pace slows down too much in the middle, I have a tendency to abandon it in favor of a different book because I have so many other books I want to read. This disturbs me because I’m sure I’m missing some awfully good books that I’d really enjoy if only I had the patience.

I’ve even tried to reread a few books I read years ago and thought magnificent—"Captains and the Kings", "Hyperion", "A Tale of Two Cities"—and not been able to get too far into them. We live in a Twitter world and are too easily distracted when thoughts are longer that 140 characters.

This disappoints me. I know those are good books. I really would like to read them again and have the same reaction as I did decades ago, although that might not be possible. I’d like to tackle something a little deeper than a cozy mystery, which is what I tend to read most now. But the older I get, the more conscious I am of how little time I have left. I want to whittle down that TBR collection, not feel I’ve missed something by staying too long with a book that doesn’t intrigue me.

I have no answers to this dilemma. But I wonder how many of us are reading as fast as we can, conscious of our Goodreads yearly reading goals more than of the actual books we’re consuming. And if I’ll ever have the patience to read an epic novel again.
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