Drowning in Books

Tower of books by Matej Kren
Tower of Books at Prague Municipal Library by Matej Kren

Last year I wrote about my effort to reduce the number of books residing on my physical “To Be Read” shelf. The fact that I have to differentiate between a physical and virtual shelf only underscores my problem. Yes, it is a problem. I admitted that years ago and I’ve been making an effort to collect fewer books.

I have bought fewer books. But the number on the shelves has increased. Review copies, autographed books from conventions, loaners from friends, books that secretly migrated to Kelly Country in the middle of the night. There are so many books there that I can’t see them all anymore. They are lined up along the shelves, tucked in over and under and stacked along the front. There are hundreds of books there. Hundreds. To be quite honest, the number has me feeling a little faint. I know I can’t read them all. I know I won’t. But…I really, really want to.

As We Know It

Have you ever fantasied about the world ending so that you’d have more time to read? Yeah, I didn’t think so. Many of my friends are amused by my obsession with apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic fiction. Few probably suspect my ulterior motives. Having written my own post-apocalyptic tale, however, I should realise that I’d probably spend more time surviving than reading—depending on the apocalypse, of course.

Then there is the fact that I might quite possibly die in the first strike, wave, cloud of noxious something because I’d dither too long in front of my bookshelves, deciding what to take. Yes, I’d take books with me, even if I knew I wouldn’t have time to read. They’re…books. My books. And in a proper apocalypse, the batteries on my Kindle wouldn’t last for long, so all those books I have stored there would be dead to me. All the books I have on the Cloud would be near-permanently inaccessible.

Just one of the reasons I resisted building a virtual bookshelf until I fell victim to deal newsletters and the addictive properties of Amazon’s 1-Click.

Thinning the Herd

“The tower of books about Abraham Lincoln, symbolizing that the last word about this great man will never be written.” – Ford’s Theatre
“The tower of books about Abraham Lincoln, symbolizing that the last word about this great man will never be written.” – Ford’s Theatre

The stress of owning so many books is obvious. I can feel the weight of them behind me. They whisper and they breed. Every time I look at the shelves, there are more books there. And they all want to be read. They conspire to be read. The spines wink and shimmer when I walk past and I often pause to touch them, pick one of the books up, re-read the blurb on the back and promise myself I’ll read it soon.

I’m not crazy, not really. There are other people who talk to their books. I’m sure of it.

This morning I looked at the shelf and panicked. It’s not an unusual occurrence. I live by lists. Little pleases me more than moving something from “To Do” to “Done”. I love it when my Netflix queue is empty. It means I’ve accomplished something—even if that something is hours and hours of movies of somewhat dubious quality (I’ve defended my tastes in movies in other posts). I like it when I’ve read all the books currently downloaded to my Kindle. Hasn’t happened for a while, but it has happened. Once. Lately, even my Kindle seems weightier, though. It’s a black hole that sucks me away from otherwise productive pursuits…

The bookcase behind my desk is a list that will never be cleared. Knowing this, I sometimes try to get rid of some of the books. I reevaluate some of my choices and try to accept the fact I am never going to continue that trilogy or read that particular story, interesting as it sounds.

Last summer, I actually managed to move fifty or so books into another room where I listed them on a swapping database. Those books are still in the house, but they’re no longer looming over me. Behind me. I also tried to throw away some of the crappier quality paperbacks. I couldn’t do it. I actually pulled them back out of the trash and put them back on the shelves.

This morning, after a small panic attack incited by the fact Ebola has reached New York City, I scanned the shelf and wondered how many of those books I could realistically take to the basement with me when I entered lockdown. I picked up one that I’ve tried to read three times and actually put it in a box, a box destined for the spare room or maybe even the donation bin at the library. Then I picked it up again and read the back and thought, “Man, I really want to read this book.” It’s on the shelf because it just looks awesome—never mind the fact I haven’t managed to get past the first chapter in three years.

I picked up another book and put it in the box. Then I pulled it out of the box again because, damn, it just looks fascinating.

The box is empty. I gave up.

Resistance if Futile

What I really need to do is not buy any more books.  This won’t stop the influx. Publishers send me books every week and even if I don’t want to read them, I have to hang on to them for a while because there’s nothing like the smell of a freshly printed book. And the covers are sometimes so pretty. And I sort of want to read them. All of them.

People also give me books as gifts. I’m easy to shop for. I have eight Amazon wishlists—sorted by genre—and I’d be happy to see one of those lists marked complete. I mean, empty.

I have stopped buying books in book stores. The fact there are so few in my area makes it easy. But it’s also kind of stupid to buy books when I can ask for whatever I want so long as I review it for the magazine. Thankfully I long ago got over the idea that I could read every new book every publisher I loved planned to release in a single month. I only ever ask for what I actually intend to read.

Also, the quality of book stores has declined. There is a local bookseller on Main Street that I have a love/hate relationship with. They carry second hand books and I used to go in there with my printed wishlists looking for the books I needed to complete a certain trilogy. When those books migrated to my shelf and started to collect dust, I stopped doing that. The big box stores just feel too soulless, though, and they never have the book I actually want to read. They have the best sellers, the movie tie-ins and the latest, epic BEAUTIFUL YOUTH SAVE THE WORLD FROM ADULT STUPIDITY titles. They never have book two of the trilogy I’m currently reading. They don’t have any male/male romance. That, right there, is a crying shame.

...help me.
…help me.

So, to not buy books, I have to resist the lure of 1-Click. That’s soooo hard. I can 1-Click in my pajamas. I can 1-Click from BED. I can finish reading one book and immediately 1-Click the second. I’d also have to ignore all the bright and shiny newsletters from my favourite publishers. The ones that tell me that TODAY ONLY I can get the book I want at a substantial discount. It’s just one click away.

I’d also have to tell Jenn to stop reading because every time she reads a good book she sends me a recommendation. More often than not, I go 1-Clicking.

Promises, Promises

So, can I do it? Can I not buy a new book for a whole month? Can I resist the temptation to carry any book into this house for thirty days? I’m going to try, and if my various towers of books haven’t buried me by the end of November, I will report my efforts.

Yeah, I can hear you laughing now.

9 thoughts on “Drowning in Books

  1. booksbrainsandbeer October 24, 2014 / 8:30 am

    I feel your pain. I managed to get rid of four boxes of books a month or so ago, an achievement so rare it has become known in my household as “The Great Weeding.” I’ve found that, if I look at the books as they accumulated over time, like the strata of rocks or the rings of a tree, I can see how my interests waxed and waned. I was able to acknowledge that, although I was interested in every book on my shelves, I was more interested in some than others–and I weeded accordingly. More tomes have crept in since then, though.

    • Kelly Jensen October 24, 2014 / 8:33 am

      The Great Weeding–I love it!

      I listed twelve books from the shelf in a reading challenge this year and my lack of success in reading even those twelve books has been an eye opener. Some of these books have been on the shelf for too long. I was interested in them, but I no longer am. Not quite to the same degree. So, at some point, I need to pack another box and I’ll probably start with the books I didn’t manage to read as part of the challenge this year. 🙂

  2. Jenn Burke October 24, 2014 / 8:38 am

    But I’m trying to laugh quietly…

    So, does this mean I shouldn’t tell you about any of the books I’m reading for the next month, to help you avoid temptation? Or will this just lead to you gorging yourself on new purchases in December? (I bet it will.)

    • Kelly Jensen October 24, 2014 / 8:42 am

      Send along your recommendations. The power of my WILL will defeat the impulse to buy. Or, I could just start a new wishlist…

  3. Carl V. Anderson October 25, 2014 / 10:20 pm

    Without planning to do so I’ve actually purchased fewer books this year…and still haven’t made any kind of significant progress with all the books I have shelved in this house…and stored on my Kindle. *Sigh*

    • Kelly Jensen October 26, 2014 / 5:10 am

      I’m sure there is a mathematical formula for this… 🙂

  4. kirizar April 2, 2015 / 8:57 am

    It took me years, and I mean years, to realize that I didn’t have to finish a book. Still, a book has to be pretty danged crappy for me not to finish it. And I try to avoid any books that come in unending series. If only someone had warned me about Laurell K. Hamilton, blast her hide.

    • Kelly Jensen April 2, 2015 / 10:43 am

      The older I get, the less patience I have for even slightly crappy books–which may have to do with the looming size of my To Be Read pile, or just me getting “particular” (cranky). I think we feel compelled to finish books because a project left undone nags at you. That’s my theory, anyway. As for series…I actually don’t mind starting a series that isn’t finished yet. It’s pretty rare I’ll read all the books at once, anyway? I tend to mix things up, often not getting to sequels for months or years.

      But, there are exceptions. I won’t read the Wise Man’s Fear until Patrick Rothfuss publishes the next book because I’ve already forgotten most of The Name of the Wind, so I’m going to have to reread that anyway, and those books are freaking huge! 🙂

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