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.