“A precondition for reading good books is not reading bad ones: for life is short.” — Arthur Schopenhauer
“The buying of more books than one can read is nothing less than the soul reaching toward infinity…” — A. Edward Newton
I wrestle with books. I love reading, and stack more books than I ought to into my life. Settling down with a great book is one of my favorite activities, so why do I pile on more than I can possibly get to? The stack of books taunt me. Even as I write this I can see them in the periphery, mocking my use of time when it doesn’t involve them.
We live in a time where we’re blessed with abundance in everything around us, and cursed with the same scarcity of time. We must be prudent in what we add to the pile, and what we edit out. Reading is just another experience in a brief life that contributes to its richness and meaning. The rules of good nutrition apply. Beyond the required reading of a formal education, we get to choose our information diet. But we also then live with the consequences. When we use our reading time wisely we enhance living substantially.
Imagine my delight when my Twitter feed offered up the two quotes above within a few days of one another to perfectly summarize my… situation. We live an impossibly short life for the sheer number of books available for us to read, and then pile on the distractions of life (like Twitter), and how are we ever to get to everything we want to read? The very act of writing this blog is stealing time from reading, even as writing fuels my hunger to read more. Which experience is more valuable in the moment? Isn’t life a quest to find balance between what we do and what we consume?
And therein lies the answer; reading is just another form of collecting experiences that build a life. As with other experiences, we are what we prioritize. We can’t do everything, but we can certainly do the most important things. So it is with reading. It’s not just a stack of books and an infinite jumble of words, it’s the building blocks carrying us higher and higher towards a richer perspective and broader potential. It’s ours to realize, or to leave on the shelf.