Like most avid readers I’ve met, I buy books. It’s a compulsion. If I can imagine myself reading the book tomorrow, and I have the funds, I’m likely to bring it home.
It’s to the point where I have seven IKEA bookcases full of books I’ve read. It’s a number that represents only about half the total volumes I’ve ever owned. The rest have been traded for store credit, or permanently loaned because I wasn’t going to read them a second time, or culled because I didn’t want to move them.
Books are really heavy to haul up stairs.
But when I buy a new book, I probably won’t actually read it tomorrow. When I bring one home, it goes on my “unread shelf”, joining other recent acquisitions, from where I’ll select it as the mood strikes me. In most cases it’s six months to a year from purchase to the final closing of the cover. It used to be rare that one would linger without my attention for longer than that.
It used to be a great system. Unfortunately, something’s happened to upset the balance.
Now I live next-door to a first-rate library.
It’s a small-town library, too. All those books you’d wait months on a list for in the city are here on the shelf. I can order in requests from any library in the province and have them in my hands in less than three weeks. It’s so close-by. It’s an amazing resource. But access to an institution of this quality has a hidden, sinister downside.
The library’s “New Arrivals” shelf is staring me in the face every time I walk through the doors. When a friend recommends a novel, it’s two mouse-clicks away to reserve online, with delivery by Saturday. Even if the books are just sitting quietly, with their shiny plastic binding, I can’t help myself.
There is too much selection.
Today I went in to return one and borrowed four. This is not a rare occurrence. As a consequence, my unread shelf is growing at a rate far beyond what it can sustain. The books I own are piling up. I can’t get to them.
There are currently 57 books on it and, instead of one shelf, it’s two. I don’t have space for a third.
I’m a fast reader, but there is a limit to how many pages I can get through in a finite amount of time.
The library imposes a three-week limit, plus one renew. I’m forced to read at their pace, unable to slot my own books into the rotation, driven by the ticking clock. I feel that I have to read the borrowed volumes first and, with unlimited supply, they won’t go away.
Mine wait for me, collecting dust. Probably judging me for taking them away from someone who’d read them immediately.
I’ve tried valiantly to chip away at the unread shelf. There are faint glimmers of hope.
I’ve cut back on purchasing. I don’t bring library books on vacations. In the winter it’s far more attractive to stay home and read what you’ve already got than to go out and brave the cold.
But even with these efforts, there’s still two going onto my shelf for every one that comes off.
Worse, just when I think I’m getting ahead, the library goes and puts on a book sale where you can purchase an entire box of discards for five dollars.
So my problem continues to grow, even as I’m reading constantly.
A good library represents an entire building full of unread shelves, so mine will have to wait.
Appendix A: My Current Unread Shelf
Alexandre Dumas, The Vicomte de Brangelonne
Alexandre Dumas, Twenty Years After
Anderson and Moesta, Jedi Shadow
Anderson and Moesta, Jedi Sunrise
Brad Meltzer, Dead Even
Carrie Fisher, Surrender the Pink
D. H. Lawrence, Lady Chatterley’s Lover
Drew Karpyshyn, Darth Bane, Path of Destruction
ED. Martin Greenberg, The Further Adventures of Batman
Erich Maria Remarque, All Quiet on the Western Front
Frank Herbert, Chapterhouse Dune
Frank Herbert, Children of Dune
Frank Herbert, God Emperor of Dune
Frank Herbert, Heretics of Dune
Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov
G. K. Chesterton, The Innocence of Father Brown
Iris Murdoch, The Nice and the Good
J. D. Salinger, Raise the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour, an Introduction
James Joyce, Dubliners
James Joyce, Ulysses
John Grisham, Ford County
Joseph Conrad, Nostromo
Joseph Conrad, The Secret Agent and Almayer’s Folly
Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace
Lincoln Child, Death match
Mack Maloney, War Heaven
Madeleine L’Engle, A Wrinkle in Time
Matthew Kneale, English Passengers
Michael Crichton, A Case of Need
Michael Crichton, Next
Michael Reaves, Darth Maul, Shadow Hunter
Richard Preston, The Cobra Event
Rudyard Kipling, Kim
Timothy Zahn, Cobra
Timothy Zahn, The Green and the Gray
William Faulkner, As I Lay Dying
William Faulkner, The Sound and the Fury
Alexander de Seversky, Victory through Air Power
Anthony Brandt, The Tragic History of the Sea
Charles Darwin, Voyage of the Beagle
David Alexander, Star Trek Creator, The Autobiography of Gene Roddenberry
ED. Charles McCarry, From the Field, A Collection of Writings from National Geographic
Frank Welsh, A History of Hong Kong
Gary Kinder, Ship of Gold in the Deep Blue Sea
Jeffrey Meyers, Joseph Conrad
Joseph Persico, 11th Month 11th Day 11th Hour
Judith Belushi, Samurai Widow
Kenneth Cambon, Guest of Hirohito
Michael Drosnin, Citizen Hughes
Moseley and Browning, How to Satisfy Your Wife Every Time
Robert Ballard, The Discovery of the Titanic
Robert Morgan, The Man Who Flew the Memphis Belle
Roy Macskimming, Cold War, The Amazing Canada-Soviet Hockey series of 1972
Simpson and Burger, Ghost Boat
Steve Davies, Red Eagles
T. W. Paterson, British Columbia Shipwrecks