To All The Books I’ll Never Read

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.

Why?

Because there’s so much of it that we could never, ever experience it during our lives.

15 Comments

  1. I always wonder what books I am missing out on. And then I remember ALL the books I have read and feel content and filled with joy. I wish I had all day to read and/or write, but I will take whatever I can get and run with it.
    Love this one Christian :D

    Liked by 6 people

    1. My “To Be Read” List is… well I don’t even have one. Also, lots of books I bought and are collecting dust.

      But I do wonder if other people also pretend to have read books they have only a vague idea of, or started but never finished. I do that all the time.

      Liked by 3 people

  2. This was a lovely read. I admire your passion and dedication – and really feel for you. The way I’ve dealt with it- my life is my own story and every moment is a page – and so the quest is not so much on how much I can imbibe, but in choosing time investments to transform my story.

    Don’t know if it means anything to you, but reading your work inspired me to share.

    Thank you.

    Liked by 6 people

    1. It does make sense. I aspire towards a stoic approach to time management, so I get it.

      Carpe diem, all that. Thinking about how to best live today as if it were my last day on this earth.

      But at the same time, I believe that there’s no optimal path. Only choices. Some are terrible, and we might regret them, but we never know what worse fate our bad choices have saved us from. Sometimes we catch a glimpse of that, but most times we don’t.

      It’s strange. There is no path. You make the path by walking. In whichever direction you choose from. I should perhaps write an essay on this.

      Liked by 3 people

  3. I love this post so much. I think about this often and I get so stressed because there so many books I wish to read and I feel like I don’t have the time. It feels like I’m drowning and I’m struggling, reaching for another breath of air. So I reach for another book, start reading 2/3 books at a time. But this rush to read every book, to watch every movie takes away all of the magic of enjoying it. A person that rushes to read a book, won’t get the same unique experience as someone that enjoys it. The person will miss out and won’t ponder on the book, never thinking of the impact it had on them, because of it’s desire to have more and more. Just as a person that travels all the time, won’t be impressed on every view they get, they might even get bored of traveling so much. I view this as quality over quantity.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I share these feelings, and yet–

    I doubt the One who brought the world into existence would be the least bit troubled that so few travel it in a lifetime. The point is not to see more, but to see better. I would rather fall deeply in love with one book or one place than flirt or play the tourist with a thousand.

    (That said, I’d be awfully pleased with myself if I managed to read two books every week.)

    Liked by 2 people

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