So Many Books, So Little Time

This is not my pile of unread books. Mine are in better shape.

One positive aspect of the pandemic for me is that bookstores are closed and I can’t get lost in the endless sea of spines on shelves. In the before-times, I used to walk into every bookstore I came across and if I felt I had five minutes to spare, I would browse for at least twenty minutes and in 99.9% of cases I would end up buying at least one book, often more.

The result of this is that I have an overflowing bookshelf. I came to Canada with four books in my backpack. My dad later sent me another handful, but that accounts, at best, for one row of my shelf. But there are over a hundred books (I haven’t counted them) and, If I had to guess, I’d say that I have read about half of them, maybe less.

Now, Germans are often accused of having a word for everything. While that is mostly true (I mean, look up Waldeslust), we don’t really have a word for the compulsion to buy a book whenever entering a bookstore – at least not that I am aware of. Sure, I could make up a word. German lends itself really well for creating neologisms by simply mashing up existing words. Bücherkaufzwang, consisting of the existing words Bücher (books) and Kaufzwang (oniomania or compulsive buying disorder) sounds good and pretty much hits the nail on the head. But just making up a word, without confirmation and approval by your peers feels like cheating.

Other languages have terms that focus mostly on the collection of books. The Japanese have a term for collecting more books than one reads: Tsundoku. The term consists of the words doku (“reading”) and tsun (“to pile up”). And of course there is the English bibliomania. But both words are only about possessing books and piling up unread literature in one’s collection. That may be the source of my problem, but I am still left searching for a term for the specific symptom of having to buy more books upon entering a bookstore.

I guess I will have to stick with my German neologism for now – and hope that bookstores remain closed for a few more months.

Time Enough At Last. Or Not.

2020 is thankfully behind us. While the new, bad C-word has halted life as we knew it and continues to hold us in its grip – albeit hopefully not for too much longer – the past year has brought many people something precious, something they complained they never had: time.

Yes, all of a sudden many people had time. Whether it was because they had lost their job (hopefully just temporarily) or just because they were now working from home, cutting out their commute. Yes, people had found time. Of course, the irony was that there was nothing you could do with all this time. We were all still stuck at home because of this damn CoV…virus.

One would think that this situation was a perfect scenario for readers. To quote the famous Twilight Zone episode about eerily similar circumstances: Time enough at last! Indeed, we had time at last to read all the voluminous classics of various genres that we never dared to touch but had bought for just such an occasion: War and PeaceInfinite JestUlysses,and all the others we were always so determined to read but never did because – wouldn’t you know it? – we just never had the time.

Yeah, right.

I don’t know about you but 2020 was the year I read less than in any other since I started keeping records of my books in late 2015. It’s not even close. My previous low for a full year was 25 books. Even in 2015, when I started to keep track, I reached 12 books – in November and December alone.

In 2020, I read a total of 11 books.

The more I think of it, the more reasons come to mind why I read so little. The fact that I kept working as usual, with the exception of a few weeks in late March and early April, is one (actually I worked even more, since I started as a freelance writer for – give me a read here). Meeting and later moving in with my girlfriend was another. Those were the good reasons.

But there was something else, a sort of restlessness that lingered in me throughout the year. From the start, the news dominated everything. Trump impeachment here, new virus there. Trump madness here, vaccines there. At one point, I found myself checking the number of new infections for Papua New Guinea while watching another nurse break down in tears on CNN. It all felt like War and Peace and Infinite Jest and The Stand had formed a weird exo-literary time-space continuum. I was just waiting for the news that a tennis coach named Randall Flagg was starting a cult to storm Area 51 (the last part was actually a possibility in late 2019, remember?).

So with everything going on and society teetering on the edge of self-destruction, reading felt somehow trivial. I was more worried about whether I would have to buy a sleeping bag and a tent and head north in the middle of the night once anarchy reared its ugly head. Funny enough, even as my mind went there, I still was thinking that I should bring Infinite Jest and It with me. Time enough at last.

But now that 2020 is over the page has turned, pardon the pun. The Mango Mussolini has left in disgrace. Vaccines are, slowly but surely, being distributed. Hope has made a comeback. And so have my reading habits. I am on my fourth book this year and there are no signs of slowing down.

Looks like the Twilight Zone got it wrong. It doesn’t take an apocalypse to find more time to read. Quite the opposite.