How not to drown in books

I spent almost the whole day on this:

Reading list

When I was an undergrad, I began accumulating book recommendations from friends, professors, magazines, newspapers, and other sources. Pretty soon I had so many that I set up a spreadsheet to record them. Over the years I added many titles to this list, but removed relatively few. The last time I looked at this list it was so cumbersome and overgrown I just closed the file again. There were more than 300 entries.

Today I decided to weed this unwieldy list of recommendations. The list was like an archaeological study of my “shoulds” of the past seven years. There were scholarly books on it, children’s picture books, yoga books, and cookbooks. It ran the gamut from Let That Be the Reason, which I eventually removed, to Shake Hands with the Devil, which remains. The reason it took me all day to cull this list is that I couldn’t go through more than thirty titles at a time without getting overwhelmed. It was sort of like cutting off limbs all over again, recognizing that even if I did read these books I would never be an expert on karmic traditions, on traditional Austrian desserts, on the psychology of caregivers. It sounds stupid, but at some point in my life I really truly did believe that if I read enough about everything, I’d know everything. (Now you know why Hermione is my favorite Potter character.) Cutting more than a hundred books off my list was my acknowledgment that knowing everything is impossible.

The reading list is still huge, just under 200 titles, and it doesn’t include the shelves of unread books that still reside in my office. I’ll never read everything no matter how hard I try, and in the meantime, I’ve got better things to do, so… until I clear my bookshelves and the titles on this spreadsheet, I will not collect any more book recommendations. I have enough to do as it is.

(And yes, I recognize how totally OCD it is that I made this spreadsheet in the first place. Being excessively informationally organized is as much a handicap as it is an asset.)

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