Last week, I made two mistakes.
I have become a person who reads multiple books at a time, and right now, I accidentally checked out five audiobooks at the same time. I have them each for 3 weeks, and it stresses me out, because maybe I won’t have enough time to listen to that many hours of audiobook. Because, you see, I also had checked out 8 books I was hoping to read in those same 3 weeks. (How did three weeks go by and I only finished 2 of them?)
Which brings me to my next mistake: though it shames me to admit, I…. have an overdue book. It was due two days ago, and I just finished it this morning. I know! I am inconveniencing the person waiting for it, but let me explain!
Standard operating procedure in the last couple years is to read in different formats, different places. I’ll have one audiobook on my phone, one CD audiobook in my car, maybe an ebook, plus or minus a few print books. (Except for not having a CD player anymore, this is all still true.)
Also normally, I manage my digital reading/listening schedule more evenly: I place holds on several electronic audio/books with lengthy wait lists. I let them trickle in to my account and pause the holds, saving my place in line, when I see I’m next in line for too many books that might become available at the same time.
Ordinarily, when the library emails me saying “yay! Your turn in line has come!” it is the highlight of my inbox.
Last week, though, I had no book to listen to. I foolishly downloaded one, even though I was first in line for several books… And then, when I was only two hours in, the emails started. “It’s your turn!” At halfway through, “it’s your turn!” I had placed one audiobook on hold a whopping 7 months ago, behind 12 other people, and now.. it’s my turn!
All this to say: I stress out about books.
Chances are, if you know a librarian, she or he also does this. So do avid readers, English teachers and, at least briefly, anyone who ever had to read Beowulf (blecchhhhhhh). That specific Beowulf-cringe is unique to books where the reader has zero connection to nor desire to read. This used to happen far more, when I had to read books for classes or felt I had to finish reading a classic because it is a classic or a pleasure read just because. Long ago, I gave myself permission to stop if I’m still not engaged after the first third or half of a book. Life is too short to finish books I don’t care about (note: I don’t say ‘to read shitty books.’ Just because I didn’t like them doesn’t mean they are shitty.)
The stress I feel far more often these days is due to HOW MANY BOOKS THERE ARE THAT ALL WANT ME TO READ THEM. Every day, I read three or four or five more lists with even more books I didn’t know about. These books are new, these books are old but I never heard about them, or they are outside my normal reading parameters but sound interesting. As a librarian, I challenge myself to read broadly so I can recommend titles to customers with a variety of tastes in books. Bottom line: if it sounds intriguing, it is going on my to-read shelf.
Currently, I have 350 books on my Goodreads to-read shelf. Four books have sat there since 2012. Ten of them are from my phase where I read books about foods: tea, chocolate, cheese, bananas, potatoes, the history of refrigeration… All of them sound so interesting, and all of them have been on this list since July 27, 2016. Unclear whether I will ever read them, but I haven’t given up the possibility yet.
Usually I request these books on an as-needed basis, but every once in a while, I pore through this digital shelf and request a multitude of items at one go.
I know that as soon as I have checked it out from the library, I will read it soon. The due date gives me a hard deadline, as e-books and e-audiobooks are programmed to automatically stop working after the loan period. I will either read it, or I will start it and if I’m not hooked, decide to remove it from the shelf altogether. Checking physical library books out is a commitment to read them next-ish, but if no one has a hold on my books, I can get away with renewing them into perpetuity. But, if I have a book in my possession for that long and I still don’t want to read it, it’s as good as gone.
Problem is, as soon as I kick it off the list, another one (or three!) books pop up clamoring to be added and read.
It is all a somewhat obsessive system, designed to simultaneously decrease the to-read list and expand my breadth of reading experience. I don’t happen to think the system is that complex, but… then I realize other people don’t do this with their to-read shelves. And that if I applied these disciplined principles to my eating habits or workout plans or career goals, I would lead a far more disciplined and productive life.
Is this what addiction is? A compulsive need to grab for more and more, and anxiety if there is ever a low supply? It seems I have taken a positive act and brought a negative spin to it. Of course, all in the name of reading. But, just like with the news, I think it is better for me to close my eyes sometimes and recenter. Avoid the lists/stimulation that stress me out. Keep plugging away at the actions I can take to address the stress-inducer.
And I’m getting better about not getting upset with myself if I don’t get to what I think I’m going to get to. I have to shake it off. There are real issues to tackle. And, don’t yell at me, I’m returning the overdue book tomorrow!