Too Much and Not Enough

This is not about failure—it’s about deferred success. This is about all the books I haven’t read yet.

Yet: that last word hangs there, taunting me, reminding me of all the unticked items on the to-do list of my life.

I adore books; I adore reading. Sometimes, however, I wonder if my acquisitional habits are closer to a drug addict’s than a scholar’s. Buying books makes me feel safe and whole.

Maybe it’s because, over the years, I’ve found so much solace, comfort and refuge in books. Maybe it’s because implicit in the act of buying is a statement: a proclamation that we exist, and that our needs and desires matter.

All of which would be fine, really, except for one thing—I don’t have enough time to read all the books I already have, let alone new ones.

Actually, that’s not quite true. I could spend less time reading on the internet, less time sitting in cafés reading the newspaper, less time watching the snooker. But none of this would address the fundamental problem, which is that while I would love to read all these books, and could conceivably make time, I just don’t have the emotional energy required.

Reading a serious book takes energy: a concerted mental effort, an emotional investment. It requires you to care, at least if you want to read it properly (which, needless to say, I do).

For example, right now I’m reading Jonathan Coe’s biography of BS Johnson, Like A Fiery Elephant: The Story of BS Johnson, which is absolutely riveting. I read an article by Coe on why he chose the subject, and that prompted me to seek out the book. That it was a Christmas present helps: I feel an additional duty to read it, especially since I asked for it.

But reading it isn’t just a question of sitting down and being carried away by the prose; I need to make the right kind of time for it. I need to not be too tired, too fidgety, too distracted. And time like this is rare, because I use so much of it up on other things—reading philosophy papers, writing things for this site, designing websites. All of these things eat into what, I now realise, used to be my reading time.

In consequence, my shelves are stacked with books I’ve bought, and started—I love to start books—but never finished. Don Quixote, Gravity’s Rainbow, Gormenghast, Russell’s History of Western Philosophy—all of these and more lie abandoned on my shelves. If I didn’t know better, I’d think they were glaring at me.

Last updated 13th Jan 2009

3 responses

Only recently, I’ve found joy in buying and reading books. I don’t quite have the problem of not finishing a book that I bought, because I see the end of a book as an ultimate mental success. But everybody _fails_ when it comes to time. It must be something living in the mist of civilization means. I guess, you can take the Thoreau approach, and be part of nature. :)

~ Tom

Not only are they watching, they are judging.

~ Francis

That’s a pretty redundant comment, since both of those are implicit in my use of “glaring”.

Tom: not a bad idea, and one I plan to implement at some point. When I have time.

~ Benedict