It Depresses Me That There Are More Books Than I Can Read in a Lifetime

Within the past few years I’ve really ramped up the number of books I’ve read. There was a lull after university where I had just finished four years worth of studying and wanted nothing more just to relax, but the demands of starting a new career and moving to a new city kept me more busy than ever. During the evenings of the first couple years of my first job I spent them working towards qualifications that I needed to advance in my field. This bled into the weekend, and I found myself with little time to do much else.

But then I finished all that. Suddenly, outside of the occasional late day at the office, I had a lot of free time outside my 9-5. I spent a lot of time just sitting on Reddit and YouTube. Way too much time. It was a bit ridiculous, to be honest – I live in New York City and had every opportunity at my fingertips. Once I realized this, I started readapting my habits to things that I actually enjoyed. The first novel that I read (and probably the first I had read voluntarily in years) was George Orwell’s 1984. I was inspired to read it based on the current events of the world, and found it ominously on point.

I find it curious how so many people are anti-ebook for reasons like “real books are just better!”. Ironically a significant portion of people sharing this opinion that I’ve spoken to struggle to name the last real book that they read. I say this lovingly, as I was absolutely one of those people. One day while walking through the SoHo Amazon 4-Star store, I bought a Kindle Oasis on a whim. It was close to my birthday and I thought it might be easier to haul around with me through the city and on the subway. For once, an impulse purchase was the right choice. I now bring my Kindle everywhere I with a full with a library the width of a single book and a fifth of the thickness. 

Between the discounted $2 books from Amazon’s daily newsletters and the Libby service through the New York Public Library, I always have a story on the go. I downloaded Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five before a long flight and was immersed until I landed. Periodically I receive a push notification from Libby on my phone letting me know the high demand book I put on hold two weeks ago is available to borrow – usually requiring me to hit the “deliver later” button because I’m already engulfed in something else.

Herein lies the subject of this post. As the books build up and the GoodReads wishlist expands, I’m finding myself more distraught about when am I ever going read all these books! I was forced to send a large chunk of my physical books to Goodwill when I moved into a cramped NY studio apartment, but I still have a couple shelves worth of books bought years ago that still have perfect spines from never being open. 

Most of the books I’ve read lately can be found on those listicles of “250 of the Best Classic/Modern/Fiction/Whatever Books” you see online. Even if I were to read a book a week, it would be years before there weren’t any titles left that people would say “I can’t believe you haven’t read _____!” to me. And while reading all those books, there would be at least a few books to enter the public zeitgeist that everyone was talking about while I was reading the classics. I haven’t yet read The Catcher in the Rye, a book that has been on my reading list for years, and who knows when I’ll get to it.

One of my favorite parts about finishing a book is getting to join in on the discussions on Reddit, Goodreads or even in person in the rare case. It’s like getting into an exclusive club, if you’re like me an avoid spoilers at all costs before reading or watching something new. While it’s always nice to have some of my opinions reaffirmed by others, it’s also interesting to see situations where I totally despised a character that apparently everyone else loved and vice versa. Adding to distress is knowing there are countless threads and discussions that I will avoid until the end of time solely because I’ll never read the books in their title.

I enjoy reading books because it’s rewarding. It feels like a much more productive hobby than aimlessly refreshing social media or doom scrolling through the news. It’s an escape from everyday life and it’s amazing how words on a page can evoke emotions in you as you connect with characters and settings. I’ve been forced to consider perspectives or situations that I would never come across in real life and I feel like a more well rounded person for it. I’m sad to think about all the “unknown unknowns” that exist in the minds of the world’s greatest authors which I’ll never be exposed to. 

There are worse problems in the world to have. But it’s still something that irks me each time I finish a book and start scrolling through my Kindle library for the next one. Even if I were to quit my job and laze at the beach reading all day, I’d hardly put a dent in the vast expanse of available literature before I went broke or dried up into a raisin in the sun. I’m writing this to look back on. I’m writing this so that the next time I find myself an hour into a YouTube hole I might consider jumping back into my current read instead. I’m writing this to make a positive change in behavior, however slight, and appreciate the free time I do have to read books that much more.

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