So Many Books, Too Little Time

My motto should be:  “ Quot Libros, Quam Breve Tempus” or so many books, so little time.

My patron saint is Henry Bemis.

henry-bemis

In case you don’t know Henry Bemis, he was played by Burgess Meredith in a very famous episode of Twilight Zone, “Time Enough at Last” about a super-bookworm, Henry Bemis.  Henry was a bank clerk who never could find enough time to read, until the world came to an end.

I never can find enough time to read either.  It’s a life of quiet desperation for words.   I have more unread books on my shelves than I will be able to read if I lived to be 100.  I also have a book buying addiction – I buy 7-10 books for every one I read.  I’ve always rationalized I will read them someday, but at 60, I know that’s not true.

I had an epiphany the other day.  I was flipping through some free books I had picked up and it dawned on me that I will never run out of something to read, even if I didn’t own a single book.  I have access to so many free or cheap books, that owning books doesn’t matter anymore.  I even pictured myself finishing a book and just leaving it where someone else could find it, and then stumbling onto my next read.  There’s a service for leaving books for other people to find called Book Crossing.

There’s also a movement called Little Free Libraries, where people build tiny waterproof libraries to give away books.  They put them in public places, or in front of their homes, with a sign “Take a book, leave a book.”  I wonder if I built a little free library box for my yard, would there always be a book in it I’d want to read when I finished my current book?

little-free-library-3

Where I work we’ve had a free book table for years.  I always find something to read there.  Today I snagged The Victorians by A. N. Wilson, and Us and Them: Understanding Your Tribal Mind by David Berreby.  Yesterday my friend Ted handed me Fooled by Randomness by Nassim Nicholas Taleb.  Before that I brought home The Closing of the Western Mind by Charles Freeman.  Don’t be too impressed, I doubt I’ll actually read them, but like Henry Bemis I dream of the day when I could.  Ted is giving away hundreds of books.  Over the years so have I.

I’ve also rediscovered libraries, and my main library now has a used bookstore as part of the library.  So there’s a library book sale every day except Sunday.  It’s classic section always has at least one book I’ve always wanted to read.  Last Saturday I came home with five such books, for about $9.

And even if I couldn’t find a free book, there’s never been a time I’ve walked into a bookstore and not found a book I wanted to read.

This makes me wonder why I hoard books.  Generally I don’t read books off my bookshelves because I’m always hearing about a new book I want to read.  Serendipity always selects my next read, so why should I bother gathering books to somehow plan my future reading?

Well, it’s an addiction.  Not a bad one.  I don’t have to steal to keep up my habit.  The worse aspect about it is my house fills up with books and I have to decide which ones to give away.  That’s what I’m doing this week.  So far I’ve brought five cloth bags of books to the free book table at work.  The fall classes start this week and they will disappear quickly.

Another source of books is friends.  I know enough bookworms telling me about great books that I could mooch off of them for the rest of my life.

There’s also an Internet service called BookMooch.  You list books you want to give away by mail and people contact you.  You earn points towards mooching books off of other members.  I have access to so many free books that this service wouldn’t help me, but people living where books were hard to find should love it.

And just remember the new world of ebooks.  Feedbooks and Manybooks fills my Kindle and iPad with classics and public domain books.  And Books on the Knob daily reports all the great free ebooks that are available.   My library provides me with free ebooks to check out, and Amazon Prime lends me free books too.

I could reduce my bookshelves down to one volume, a Kindle, and never have to worry about finding something to read again.

I don’t think I’ll give away all my books.  I have too many I keep for sentimental reasons, but I do think I might try overcoming my book buying addition.  There’s no reason to hoard books.  Well, I can think of one reason.  If the world came to an end like in the Twilight Zone show, it would be great to have a stockpile of books to read if I was a sole survivor.

JWH – 8/21/12

11 Responses

  1. Not to mention e-book readers. I’ve been using my Nook so much that I haven’t been reading physical books as often, but I keep buying them at the same rate! Because like you I’m addicted to hunting down and buying them.

  2. I am actually doing this as well. But i am only giving away fiction books i’ve already read.

    I’ve been trying to do this in a number of ways:

    1. Give books to friends
    2. Through my blog
    3. Leaving them at the entrance of the building i live in
    4. Book Crossing

    Also with regards to hoarding i have managed to get to grips with it by only buying 1 book after reading 5 from my shelf and it’s working out for me so far.

    • That’s a great idea – to reward yourself for reading books by allowing yourself to buy a new book. Now, let’s see if I can do the math. I have at least 500 unread books. If I read them I’d get to buy 100. If I read them, I’d get to buy 20 more. If I read them, I’d get to buy 4 more. How long would it take before I finished all my books? That’s quite an algebra problem.

  3. You have 500 unread books?!!

    Do you find that ebooks are as addictive to purchase/hoard as paperbacks/hardbacks?

    • Yes I have about 500 unread books, but I’m giving a lot of them away this week, but I’ll still have hundreds. I also have about 100 audiobooks I haven’t listened to either.

      I don’t hoard ebooks. I find no pleasure in a big library of ebooks. In fact, I find it annoying because the Kindle is easily overwhelmed by too many books. I tend to get a book, read it, and then delete it.

  4. During the 70s, 80s, and 90s I amassed a sci fi collection of around 2000 books, maybe half of which I actually read. Then about 10 years ago I started giving them away. I now have about 20 of my old sci fi favorites remaining, plus about 500 non-fiction books and a sizable collection of ebooks and audiobooks. These days I really prefer the audiobooks, especially for fiction.

    • I definitely prefer audiobooks for fiction. Professional readers do a much better job than I can. Although I do want to keep a few novels for studying their writing style and sentimental reasons.

      I’m now trying to figure out just how many books I will have if I just save sentimental favorites and reference books. And does the Internet make a better reference tool than the books I’m saving.

  5. My personal revelation was that I didn´t buy books, but the fantasy of ever having the time to read them. Now I have almost all my books in one room and it is overwhelming enough that I stopped buying….

  6. In that episode of Twilight zone doesn’t his glasses break? That is what attracted me to this post! I buy, collect, hoard books but I have begun selling some of them now! The free books that I find are all reader’s digest condensed books…there are very few good free books in my area.

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