In my younger, more vulnerable years, I used to keep a list of all the books I read. I took pride in this, took pride in counting how many books I read in any given year.
I was one of the few who liked to read. It was a secret pleasure of mine, but as soon as I hit the thousand books milestone, it’s lost its charm to me forever.
Maybe I’ve read twice as many books so far, maybe I’m not that good at counting anymore.
In any case, there are billions of words I’ll never get to read. Millions of books, stories, poems, plays, and essays that I’ll never even know about.
I do my best to read two books a week, and if I were to keep this up until I turn 75, I will have read an additional 4,700 books. Give or take a few, because I’ve stopped being good at math in sixth grade, when I decided that all I wanted out of life was to write stories.
Maybe it sounds like a lot, but it’s not. It really isn’t.
What should I read? How to prioritize such an enormous task? Do I read only fiction? Poetry?
What about the millions of books about art, culture, history, science, religion, politics?
What about short stories? Do they count? Well, you don’t get a “time-back” on the time you spent reading them, not even a lousy 1%.
The truth is, no matter how I’d go about it, I am never going to read all the books I’d like to read. It can’t be done. My “to be read” list grows at an alarming pace. I used to keep a list of those books as well. Now, I don’t. What’s the point?
Now, I’m thinking that I should reduce the number of books I read, so I can also watch a couple movies every week.
But what about TV shows? What about listening to music? What about staring at a painting until your mind dissolves into a mixture of paint and awe?
You see, I’m never going to get a chance to experience most of the beauty that the world has created, and this is the sad and beautiful truth of the act of creation.
After all, I imagine that whoever created this world into existence is pretty pissed off by the fact that we rarely get to travel around the world. In eighty years of life or less, but it doesn’t matter.
Now, if you’re a writer, a blogger, a creative, think of this for a moment. Think of the fact that the vast majority of people won’t ever read your books or stare at your drawings.
Odds are, they won’t even know you created something. Or that you even existed.
Yet, we do not shy away from the act of creation, and we certainly read as much as we can, for as long as we can.
Maybe it’s because we, as humans, don’t quite know how to quit even when it comes to impossible tasks, or perhaps it’s simply because we make art and consume it in order to experience beauty.
“Beauty will save the world,” Fyodor Dostoevsky used to say. Thus, we all aspire to create beauty. Or experience it. And we all fail, of course.
But this failure does not bring with it the bitter after-taste that we’re so used to when hearing about failure. Not at all. This failure is kind of bitter-sweet, in a way. Yes, it’s bitter because we’ll never get to experience even 1% of the creative genius of all those who walked this world before us, but it’s also sweet because what would it say about us if everything we ever dared imagine into existence could be consumed by just one man in 50 or 60 or 70 years? If the collective creative output of humankind could be experienced so easily?
What would one do if one managed to read all the books, watch all the movies, listen to all the songs?
I often think of all the books I’ll never read, and I feel this panic begin to manipulate me into a state of unrest. I think it’s called “fear of missing out.” And thinking about the closest thing to infinity that we have created during our brief stay on this planet is mind-numbing, further fueling this gnawing feeling of having lost something that wasn’t mine to begin with.
It’s funny, because I’ll never even know the titles of all the books I’ll never read. Neither will you. I’ll never know about the existence of someone’s favorite author.
Think about that for a moment. Some human being decided to read a book, and they found a bit of comfort, a bit of solace. Or maybe this book they read, it made them feel so uncomfortable that they had to change their ways. Perhaps, all they did was read a few words on their most lonely of nights, and those words made them want to be friends with the person who wrote them.
And you will never, ever, ever know about all of this. You won’t know about this author who sat for hours and hours at his desk, punching those damn keys, making sure that his words would bring comfort to the disturbed, and would rattle the emotions of those who are too comfortable, if only for a little bit.
It’s such a sad and melancholic truth.
Dostoevsky was right, you know. Beauty will save the world. I’m sure of it.
Because there’s so much of it that we could never, ever experience it during our lives.