The Reading Life

Since I started working at the library, my to-read list has grown exponentially. Uncontrollably is probably a better word but when I looked up the definition of exponentially (to make sure it applies to this case), a handy note on the website said: “Your friends and colleagues will be pleased to hear that your vocabulary is growing exponentially.”

So how could I not use that word? It makes it sound like anything done exponentially is done with serious intent, whereas anything done uncontrollably is just a chaotic shitstorm. And regarding my to-read list, both could actually apply.

Thousands of books have made their way into my hands lately, and my to-read list just keeps getting longer. It’s nearly impossible not to add a book to my list for fear of forgetting the book exists. I have been known to open my Goodreads app on my iPhone at work so I can scan a book’s ISBN or barcode. If the wi-fi connection at the library is too slow and I’m working the floor (where open use of smartphones is a no-no), I’ll just snap a quick photo of the book cover and shelve it later on Goodreads.

It is unheard of for me to simply walk away, and this has caused me a great deal of stress. I feel guilty for not reading more, or I am overwhelmed because there is always more to read. A book cannot be read by me unless it is on my list or I begin to feel like I am neglecting all the good little books that have waited so very patiently for their turn, yet I let some fancy New Release cut in line. It’s rather ridiculous. So ridiculous, in fact, that I’ve actually developed anxiety over this stupid list.

Perhaps this screenshot of my Goodreads account will give you an idea of just how bad things have become:

Over the weekend I finished The Burning: Massacre, Destruction, and the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921 and then I went into my to-read list to find my next book, which I usually do right away. I’m the kind of person who likes to know “What’s next?” “What’s next?” is not something I ask because I like to live life to the fullest; “What’s next?” is something I ask because I have to be prepared for it. I have to be prepared for everything – social engagements, deadlines, appointments, vacations, what to read, and life in general. As you can see from the list above, I had 967 books from which to choose. NINE HUNDRED AND SIXTY SEVEN! How could I possibly not find anything that interested me? So many books. So many options!

And that’s my problem: Options.

A few years ago, I stood in the condiments aisle of a local grocery store and lost my mind over the olives. Have you ever stopped to look at the olives on the shelf of your local grocer? Have you ever noticed just how many kinds of olives there really are? And I’m not talking about in the world, just in your nearby supermarket.

I had to ask a complete stranger what to do after staring at all the olives for a good 15 minutes. Why? Because I completely froze up. I became so overwhelmed with my olive options that I spaced out and gave absolute control over to someone I did not even know! This single act was a honest-to-goodness cry for help. And those who know me well would agree that I simply don’t give up control very easily.

What became of the olive dilemma is not really important, but if you must know, I walked out of the store without buying any. NONE. I simply gave up. I gave up on the olives.

I’m giving up on my to-read list, too.

Yesterday I made a public declaration that I was going to chuck my book list and, in the words of my friend, live (the reading) life “on the wild side.”  To clarify, I will keep my list. I just will not be referring to it for any suggestions. When I see a book I want to read, I’ll simply pick it up and read it. There is no need to keep adding and adding and adding to my list of books to read. There is no need to compare a found book to one I cannot find, to determine if one is more worthy of the other. If it’s on my list, I’ll read it. If it’s not on my list, I’ll read it, too.

Another friend did make this suggestion: “I wouldn’t be surprised if you had a secret list hidden under the bed or somewhere, in case of a reading emergency.

So far, I do not, but that’s a great idea. I so do like to be prepared.



6 thoughts on “The Reading Life

  1. I was tempted to laugh, but i KNOW from my own experience how anxiety provoking these situations can be! I have very similar panic reactions when faced with too many choices. One notable crisis happened in the ginger ale aisle while shopping for Thanksgiving. My mother and I had gone to the store together but had seperate carts. When I didn’t come back from the tonic aisle (sorry…SODA aisle..Bostonians say “tonic”) she came looking for me. I was frozen in place and crying, and could feel hyperventilation sneaking up.. I literally couldn’t handle selecting a ginger ale, but scarier, I couldn’t control my THOUGHTS over selecting a ginger ale.
    I’ve often wondered if my long term drug addiction (I’m 8.5yrs sober now) had more to do with self medicating these crazy bouts of panic than with any of the other “reasons” they beat into your head in rehab.
    I have pretty good luck (now) keeping panic away by planning things very minutely and avoiding situations with too many variables. It seems you do this already, and at a far earlier age. Kudos for knowing yourself so well, so early on!

    ps. my middle son is afflicted with this same “condition” but my other two kids aren’t. Hopefully it skips a generation in your case!

    • So I’m not the only one! Thank goodness! Yes, I do hope it skips a generation. Sometimes I am able to remind myself that the world probably won’t end if I buy the wrong…well, let’s say olives, in this case, but it doesn’t always work. I’m working on it. And while I’m sorry your afflicted, too, remember misery loves company. Ha!

  2. I hear that. If I only had two cereal choices, life would be much easier. But I freeze, and end up grabbing Cheerios out of frustration!

    And while my reading list is much smaller than yours, I tend to ignore it and opt for the book we’re reading in book club that month. I admire your dedication to non-fiction. I’ll have to start rotating in a few more academic reads here and there.

    • My nonfiction tends to die out when I’m in school. I’ll be starting my graduate courses in public history soon which means Young Adult novels become my favorite. Ha.

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