One of my resolutions for the year has been to change my relationship to books. I’ve been a compulsive reader since age 7, when it occurred to me that I could read twice as much if I read a different book with each eye. It took a few hours before I decided that was too hard for little kids, and that maybe I could give it another go when I grew up. Unfortunately, I seem to have continued believing I could eventually double my reading volume at some future point. There are unread books in almost every room of my house. There are also unread books, both print and audio, on my phone and my laptop. That’s not counting my podcast queue or all the articles I’ve bookmarked in various apps. After six months of focus, I think I’ve finally started to get a handle on how to manage this problem.
The reason it’s a problem is that I feel frantic about trying to “catch up.” I’m ingesting as much media as I can fit into a day already. I have slightly less time than I did when I was single, which is a good thing, because hanging out with my husband is more fun than reading. (Anything less would have been a non-starter). I also have less time to read because I’m writing, which is another good thing. Sometimes I find myself working at bedtime, when I’ve already finished my quota for the day. Writing is more interesting than reading, but it doesn’t displace my desire to read other people’s stuff. I just want more hours in the day.
I was supposed to finish reading all the library books in the house by the end of January, and then read through everything in the house that I hadn’t read yet. I have totally failed at this. The stack of books I meant to read “one day” is still taller than me. The problem is that I keep putting “must-read” books on hold. I’m making choices based on their desirability at the time, not my ability to sustainably make use of them. This is the precise reason I used to have a weight problem. I finally learned that I could only eat a set amount of food in a week, no matter how many cakes and pies and donuts and cookies caught my attention. It turns out that there is also a predetermined quantity I can read, and it’s only about 20% of the amount I add to my list.
What I’ve realized is that there are going to be more fantastic options every year. My favorite authors will keep writing new material. I’ll keep discovering new writers that I like, and they will keep writing, too. There will still be everything on my To Be Read list, and it’ll grow exponentially. Meanwhile, there will still be hundreds of articles every day, dozens of blogs and podcasts, and just as many movies and “must watch” TV shows as there ever were. There will never be any “catching up.” There’s no reason to feel a sense of scarcity; on the contrary. Just like I have learned to trust that I can buy cookies any time I want, so I don’t have to eat every visible cookie in this moment, I can learn to trust that I will never run out of interesting things to read. I don’t need to keep my house full of hundreds of books, when I can and do buy them in 10 seconds using my fingerprint. The future is going to be much more about curating and blocking content than about finding it.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.