by Brad Bollenbach

Stack of Books

A truly good book teaches me better than to read it. I must soon lay it down, and commence living on its hint. What I began by reading, I must finish by acting.

– Henry David Thoreau

Much of who I am today grew from seeds planted by interesting literature. As a 12-year-old magician, I consumed a large part of the history and practice of the art form by way of written word. A few years later, as an up-and-coming chess player, I met Bobby Fischer in the pages of My 60 Memorable Games. Jeremy Silman’s How to Reassess Your Chess virtually revolutionized the way I looked at the game. Eckhart Tolle’s words of wisdom helped me let go of the ego, which instilled in me a social fearlessness that has made meeting women a non-issue.

I am a writer today because of what words have done to me, and because delivering a message that changes people’s lives is, to me, a worthy challenge.

There is one downside to being a book lover though: I want to own them all.

The Road to Hoardom

I think Maslow’s Hierarchy needs another rung: Books–just above Safety and below Love.

As much as I love to read, my shelves are full of books I haven’t gotten around to. When a blogger I admire recommends an interesting book, I can’t help myself. They’re smart. They like this book. Maybe if I read it, I’ll be smart too. Sometimes I’ll drop everything and head directly to the bookstore, because clearly this book contains secrets I must know to make my next move. I bring the book home, glance through a few chapters while sitting on the can, put it on the coffee table for later indulgence, and get back to whatever I was doing pre-bookstore-run.

I don’t have time to actually read my new book yet. I’ve got a lot of work to do, and I’m already part way through a couple other ones, so it’ll have to wait.

But then a strange thing happens: Over the next couple weeks, I’ve done it again. I’ve bought another must-have book, given it some “can time”, and the last book, the one that was waiting for me on the coffee table, has silently migrated to my bookshelf, without ever getting read.

My name is Brad, and I’m a book hoarder.

How to Have Your Book and Read It Too

If you’re like me, and you love to buy far more books than you can read, how do you stop the insanity? After all, we’re not going to just stop buying books. Sometimes I hear of a book so intriguing that I’m not willing to wait until I’ve finished my current library. Giving our old books away won’t fix the overcollection problem. Even a strict book budget can be worked around by buying cheaper books. As for buying the audio version, no thanks. I learn much better with a dead tree in my hands.

Here’s the solution I came up with: Make a rule that you will read X number of books you currently own before buying another one. I call this the read-to-purchase ratio.

This solution works well for me because it lets me control my book purchasing habits without requiring that I wait several years until I’ve consumed my existing selection. Had I done that, I’d still not have read the books that inspired me to create 30 sleeps. It also encourages me to read more, particularly to make more time for books than for blogs or mailing lists, knowing that I can reward myself with a new book soon enough, and not feel guilty about it.

My own read-to-purchase ratio is 5-to-1. Choosing a ratio that’ll work for you involves finding that sweet spot between how much time you have to read, how quickly you read, and how many shelves you’ve still got to get through.

Using this simple rule, you can make steady progress at taming the literary beast, without having to give up your Amazon adventures.

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  1. Alice says:

    I don’t share your problem as such…

    I am a book hoarder in my own way;

    I read, then re-read & the book is shoved into my cupboard to be re-read again at a later date. I’ll buy more, do the same & sometimes depending on my mood I may go back to one specific novel.

    I love my books and don’t want to leave the world they create for me.

    They get doggy tagged, bent and torn, coffee stained, disrespected but very much appreciated.

    I do hope your theory has worked out for you.

  2. I like your call to action in all of your posts. I struggle every day to perfect successful methods, but I believe that I would be doing it wrong if I felt as though I was doing everything perfect. I think you do a nice job of explaining the thoughts and motives of the successful.

    On this post however, I disagree with your method of book reading. I think that books have a real flaw to them that go against productivity: you have to invest way to much time in conventional reading methods before you realize a book is a dud or not applicable to you.

    Reason #1 for books unread: commitment of time.

    We all agree that it is very difficult to continue to pick up and put down a book and be able to retain it’s contents. We fail to read because we rarely ever have an hour + to dedicate to a book.

    Reason #2 Poor Content Reluctance. What if we invest all of that time and the books sucks?

    Solution: Create your own preview.

    1. When beginning a new book or deciding to buy it, take 2 minutes to open it up, and read the table of contents. Does the book refer to items that are interesting or applicable? If yes, buy the book, move to step two.

    2. Read the first sentence of each chapter. If the first sentence is not enough, the first paragraph. earmark any chapters that are interesting or need further explaining. Chances are that you can put the book down at this point and have confidence you have retained 90% of it.

    3. Go back to earmarcked portions for your own entertainment.

    4. Make some basic notes that will help you remember the book and place inside. Anytime someone wants to talk about the book, you can always go to that paper to refresh your brain.

    This method helped me “donate” nearly 50 books I had horded while being able to speeed read about half, retaining most and really only reading about 2.

    Novels and books for entertainment cannot be treated this way, but I assumed you were referring to self-improvement, business books.

    Cheers and good luck. Thank you for the posts.

  3. Jennifer says:

    Ha ha! I loved this article! I laughed all the way through it… Thanks. :)

  4. Ann says:

    Hey! I just found a great website:
    You can swap books for others you want, or havent’ read. I’m nuts about old science fiction, & my hubby has a hard time letting books go…

    this seems to be a good site, so far.


  5. Ornithophobe says:

    I’m sitting right now, surrounded by four foot stacks of books all over my living room. I’ve killed another bookcase; it disintegrated under the weight of books forced into it. Tomorrow new bookcases will arrive, two to replace the one that died. I KNOW I have a problem. I am a compulsive book buyer. I just don’t know how to fix that problem. For you, it’s “maybe this book will make me smarter.” For me, it’s my remote brain. All the knowledge I don’t yet know or can’t remember is hiding in these books, and the ones in my bedroom, the garage, my mother’s attic… and there’s this weird, insane fear that if I let them go, I’m somehow losing part of my knowledge base. Like braincells dying off or something. It’s why I can’t do libraries, or read and release into the wild, or whatever. I just know that somewhere in the house is the book I want, if only I can find it.

  6. Marie McDonald says:

    I guess I have a different perspective on owning books. Currently I have about 3000+ and have donated perhaps 1500 more in the past to libraries, as well as selling another 500.

    To me, the book itself is personal. The cover, the feel of the pages. Some books have harsh, unfriendly pages, while others are smooth, and the book falls open gracefully. Are the edges smooth or cut ragged? What about the font? Oh, there are so many. I reread some of my books, others have been only partially read, or not at all.

    What I like, however, is when I get interested in a particular subject matter, I can investigate further, knowing I may have another book, or two, or more, on the subject.

    What I can’t bear the thought of is having my books thrown in the trash! But, I know many of them are probably worthless, meaningful only to me because I’ve hung onto them for so many years. Surprisingly, some of them are now worth money, being out of print, first editions, or privately published.

    Like many others posting here, I need to do something to manage my “collection” and have been searching for a way to dispose of the books. I guess the best way is to bite the bullet and sort, and then donate to libraries, hospitals, etc.

    Seems like a good winter project !!!

  7. karlis umbris says:

    there is absolutely nothing wrong with hoarding books, I’ve been doing it for years, occasionally getting rid of books I’m not interested in anymore and there are advantages-you don’t have to worry about returning them to the library, you’ll never be bored when you have so many of them and are looking for something new to read, they make your home look colourful and interesting, they reflect your personality and they make you look like a supersmart university academic when you’ve got hundreds of books. I will always love having lots of books!

  8. Duchesssammi says:

    I AM so amazed to have found others like me—
    I thought I was unique- in my Book Hoarding and Compulsive Book Buying– and Trading – on yeah someone else here knows that site..I love that site and can’t imagine how I functioned without it..Been a member there for over 3-4 years…

    I love to read series– I love getting to know the characters and follow them for their entire lives– so to speak…to see a story grow – and evolve.. SO if I see a series I won’t even start it until I have every book in the series….

    My books are very precious to me – I am so careful not to crease the spines, or bend the pages, god forbid get it wet–So books that I have read look brand new—

    Great to meet you all –

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