I’m about to say something that a lot of you will find heretical, particularly coming from a published author: that sometimes, I think it is in fact possible to have too many books.
Believe me, I get it. Every time I see Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, and Belle starts singing about how the book she’s reading is so amazing, I am right there with her. And when the Beast gives her the peace offering of the giant library, I’m happily crying on her behalf that oh my yes, all is forgiven.
Because books are amazing. Shelves and shelves of unread books (whether those shelves are physical or virtual) represent, for me, a bountiful smorgasbord of potential. Having so many books to choose from is in many ways as exciting as actually diving into one and exploring what it has to offer. I’ll say straight out too that this has been a huge factor in my shift to ebooks for most of my reading—because ebooks mean I can carry that potential with me wherever I go.
And certainly, if the Me of My Childhood had had the slightest inkling of how many books the Me of My Adulthood can afford to buy, she might very possibly have squealed with joy. For six or seven straight days.
But here’s the thing: like a lot of other voracious power readers, my ability to acquire books far outstrips the pace at which I can actually read them. Some of the paperbacks on my physical To Read shelf have been there for well over ten years, and some are closing in on fifteen.
And I have to ask myself: “Honestly, Self, if you haven’t read a purchased book for nearly fifteen years, how interested in reading it could you have been in the first place?”
Because sure, I love that potential that a huge collection of books I haven’t read yet presents. I’ve even said more than once how learning French appeals to a part of my brain that’s ridiculously delighted at the prospect of an entire other language’s worth of books I haven’t read yet.
But at the end of the day, the whole point of it for me is not to buy ridiculous numbers of books I’ll never read. The point of it is to buy ridiculous numbers of books I will read. That dazzling array of potential on the To Read shelf is only meaningful if I actually take the time to read some of those books and let them deliver on their promises.
Otherwise, that mighty To Read shelf I have (over 1,300 titles on it according to my Goodreads account, tallying both physical and digital) becomes nothing more than a conversation starter, or a data point to toss around with fellow book geeks. (And if there’s anything I’ve learned in hanging out online with both SF/F and romance readers, it’s that OH MY YES both genres do love to amass stupendous piles of unread books. Let’s hear it for cross-genre solidarity!)
And y’know, if I’m going to commit to buying books, I want them to be something more than just conversational starters gathering dust on my shelves. If a book’s fetching blurb or beautiful cover lured me in enough that I actually put down some money on it, the least I can do is actually read the thing.
Which has meant for me, the last few years, that I’ve tried to scale back somewhat on my book purchasing and take more time to read the books I’ve already got. I’ve also been ramping up my use of the library to explore unfamiliar authors and verify if I’ll like their work before I actually commit to buying them. Which, as a happy side effect, has certainly improved my appreciation of our local libraries, which are awesome!
So how about you, fellow readers? How overwhelmed are you by your To Read shelves? Got any titles you’ve kept around for embarrassing numbers of years that you haven’t read yet?
Consider taking a second look at those titles. Remind yourself why you bought them. And maybe, just maybe, you’ll find a wonderful story has been waiting for you all this time.
Angela, who writes as both Angela Highland and Angela Korra'ti, does indeed have too freggin' many books. But hey, if you want to chat with her about her books, come find her on angelahighland.com, on Facebook, or on Twitter!