Book FOMO

black and white books education facts

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I figured it out. There is this weird phenomena for many of us who love books. We tend to acquire more books than we can possibly read in our lifetimes. There’s even a Japanese word for this, tsundoku. I’ve puzzled why we do that. Or to get more personal, why do I do that?

I think it comes down, at least in part for me, to fear of missing out (FOMO). I read a review of an interesting book. I learn of a book that addresses a question I’m interested in. I see a list of recommended books, or a footnote in a book I’m reading. My wife tells me about a book she’s heard about that is interesting. A book I’ve heard about turns up in a used book store, or at a low price on Amazon Kindle (usually $2.99 or less for me). I see a forthcoming book that looks interesting and request it for review.

I don’t want to miss out on a chance to read any of these great books. I rationalize this with the thought that I may get around to reading the book someday. For books I’ve identified for review, I usually do, since publishers don’t like to send out books to reviewers who don’t review their books. For others, I may end up pulling them out if they relate to a subject I want to read up on, or if they strike my fancy.

But that also means I literally have boxes of stored books acquired in years past, and it is increasingly unlikely that I will get to many of these unless the pandemic goes on for years (which none of us want!). Every one of those books was acquired for some reason of interest–I’d like to read about that, and want to have the book at hand. Alas, newer acquisitions pushed older ones aside into boxes, stored away in a closet.

As it happens, that closet is probably the best place to shelter in our home in the event of severe storms or tornado warnings we get a few times a year. We’ve agreed that those boxes of books must go, along with stacks of books I have read but don’t need to keep. It’s tough though–I can imagine doing the Marie Kondo thing and end up discovering that they all give me joy. I may do better if I don’t open the boxes and just haul them away.

The truth is, I will miss out. I can’t read all the books in my own house within my likely remaining years, let alone the new books that will come out in years ahead and all the wonderful books that have been published that I don’t have. The antidote to my FOMO, oddly enough, is coming to terms with my mortality. It means accepting that God may be all-knowing, but I never will be. One of the comforts of my faith in everlasting life will be the chance to keep learning in whatever form that might take.

Hopefully, this will make me wiser in the new books I acquire. I do find myself asking more often “will I really read that?” The pandemic has helped in limiting some of the sources of lots of cheap books like library book sales and used bookstores.

Where I’d like to get to, and haven’t yet, is to reach the point where I don’t look at those book stacks and feel, “I’ve got to read all those books!” (so now you know the shape of my OCD!). It may be that making some of the stacks disappear will help. Perhaps it is applying a principle of relationships with people to books: if you are thinking about any other book than the book you are with, you are not with any of your books. A spiritual lesson I’ve been learning is to be present in the present rather than somewhere else. When I fear missing out, I’m taking away from the enjoyment of the book I’m reading right now. Perhaps with the uncertainty of the present time, it is not a bad thing to live in “right now.” With the book I’m reading. In my comfortable chair. With a coffee at my side. In those moments, I’m not missing out at all.

2 thoughts on “Book FOMO

  1. Where I am “right now” as I read this: “With the book I’m reading. In my comfortable chair. With a coffee at my side. In those moments, I’m not missing out at all.”

    But I do know that those stacks of books in every room, on all the built-in shelves I had added before I would even move into this house, all of these do need to go, to be shared, to move on to other readers.
    So I have sold some online but that was too labor intensive and low profit (or actual loss after “postage and handling”) to continue–and besides, it very quickly became clear that the only volumes that sold were the ones I found hardest to part with.

    My two most “successful” ways of reducing the number of books in my home? First, I have periodically built Excel lists of possible give-aways, often focused on categories (children’s books, Bible study guides, hospitality, etc.) and then sent these to selected friends and family members who might appreciate them. I have had as many as 50 to 75% of the lists move on to good homes as a result. The other “success” worked for two summers. I worked with others in our congregation to organize a book giveaway for several summer Sundays; our middle-sized congregation has no Sunday school in the summer so we had lots of space to do this. We were able to move a large number of volumes–and lots of educational resources and games as well–and reminded everyone that everything left after the event would be taken directly to our local library’s used book store. Those quotation marks about “successful?” Many of us who participated did move our books to new homes BUT we also often came home with almost an equal number of new finds from others.

    So now I have made a goal of identifying at least one box of books that will be taken to the now re-opened Goodwill store that rather respectfully cares for and displays nicely the books they receive. Still, this week brought two–no, wait, three–more book orders so it has been a one step forward, five steps backwards progress in reducing thhe size of my library.

    Oh, and the other way I have tried to trim my book inventory, checking things out of the library instead of buying, was not helped when the library stopped charging overdue fees. Now I could go ahead and check out wantonly whenever I saw a recommendation that sounded good. At one point earlier this summer, I realized I had a total of more than 4,000 pages of those books sitting in their own stack!

    So thanks for your thoughts and a reminder to so many of us that we are not alone!

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