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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