The Downsides to Owning Way Too Many Books


Yeah, I know. There’s no such thing as “too many books,” except when there is.

As I mentioned recently, I’ve been slogging through Stephen King’s IT on a mission to get a fuller picture of the story we’ve been told 1.5 times in film. When I say “slogging,” I mean it. For all that I enjoy about the book, there are so many things that I don’t, most notably its massive page count and glacial pace. It comes back to that “big books” problem, which I’ve talked about before (probably on Twitter somewhere) — albeit in a somewhat different context. In brief, I’ve avoided books over 300-350 pages for years simply because I work so much and read too slow.

With all that swirling around in my head, I decided to put IT down for a bit to put my brain into something else. All of this leads me to my topic for today:

I cannot pick new books to read!

As the title suggests, that’s not due to a lack of access. I own a LOT of books. Not as much as others who have been at this collecting thing almost as long as I’ve been alive, but more books than most people. There are 9 bookshelves in my one bedroom apartment, almost all of which are double-stacked. And there are boxes of books under my bed. And in my closet. And I have about 10-15 years worth of Analog SF issues in banana boxes somewhere. In other words, I own a LOT of books.1

For some strange reason, this has made trying to find new things to read a daunting task. When I peruse the shelves, I’m struck by how much there is to read and how infrequently books jump out at me. It’s not that there aren’t good books in the sea. I know for a fact that there are dozens and dozens of absolutely great novels, many of them I probably should read. Rather, there’s something about the size of the book sea that keeps the brain juices frozen. I’m like a deer in headlights waiting for the car to hit me, only it’s actually a kid on his bicycle with a really big spotlight.

There’s another side of this, too. It’s a guilty side. I know I won’t be able to read everything I own (most likely). So every choice I make is a rejection of a lot of works I simply won’t get to. For me, that’s a horrifying prospect. What if I miss an important experience or ignore an important author? I remember reading the entire Harry Potter series on a whim and coming out of it feeling like I’d done something worthwhile. I cried when Dumbledore died. I read the last book over the course of a day and a half. I devoured those books, and it was all because of John Williams and my sister. If I hadn’t been a Star Wars fan and seen Williams’ name on the soundtrack for the first Harry Potter movie, I might never have gone to the movie or asked my sister why she liked the books so much.

Maybe that’s it. Maybe it’s the absence of those kinds of organic experiences that makes finding new things to read in my shelves so much less “fun.” If so, I’m not sure how to correct that. There are so few opportunities to have those experiences. My sister isn’t waiting in the shadows — waiting to throw another book at me.2

All I know is this:  like everything else that’s related to my profession, I’m struggling to find the motivation or interest.

Maybe the book thing isn’t unique to me, so I’ll turn it to the reader:  Do you ever have this problem? If so, how do you deal with it?

  1. Don’t forget the 5 longboxes full of comics!
  2. Well, sort of. She does wait in the shadows, but I don’t know why. I see you, sister!

About the Author:

Shaun Duke is an aspiring writer, a reviewer, and an academic. He is currently an Assistant Professor of Digital Rhetoric and Writing at Bemidji State University. He received his PhD in English from the University of Florida and studies science fiction, postcolonialism, digital fan cultures, and digital rhetoric.

2 thoughts on “The Downsides to Owning Way Too Many Books

  1. I don’t often have this problem. Reviewing means I have particular things to read and a deadline. Reading for myself is governed by what I can fit in between deadlines and is usually a contrasting genre to serve as a palate cleanser.

    However, when it does strike, I usually pick either the first or last book on my list of acquisitions (there’s a spreadsheet). Some friends I know read the first pages of a bunch of books until something strikes them. Other friends pick a selection, then conduct a Twitter poll (which has always seemed like fun to me). This latter could also be a good way of getting back that organic experience, if your followers chime in with what they like about the books you’ve listed.

    I hope you find something that works for you.

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