I recently have this fear: I would not have enough time to read all the books I want to read.

Every time I glance at the pile of to-be-read books on my shelf, I feel overwhelmed. Soon, there will be new books: new releases praised by BookTubers or shortlisted by Vulture or Esquire, new translations recommended by indie booksellers like POST or published by Marjin Kiri or Penerbit Haru.

How can I keep up?

And still, every time I go out, I browse the little free libraries around the city (most often the one at the corner, across the canal), hunting for surprises. Amsterdam had gifted me some excellent titles these past few months: Judy Blume’s In The Unlikely Event, Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Unconsoled, Brady Udall’s The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint (which gave me Sherman Alexie’s vibe), and Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park among others.

From time to time, I visit Scheltema’s web-listing of second-hand books (despite struggling with their website’s not-so-friendly UI/UX), trying to find out if someone has sold some of the books on my wish list.

I am still finding myself coming home to tiny bookshops or climbing the stairs of 5-storey bookstores when I have no idea where else to go. The sight of those shelves comforts me. The words hidden inside rows and rows of closed books promise me another story, another world, another reality.

When I was little, I lived vicariously through the books I read, mostly Enid Blyton’s and Hitchcock’s. When I read a novel, I was a student in a British boarding school; I had a summer picnic and stumbled upon mysteries to solve; I played lacrosse; I had new neighbours with tree houses; I was a girl with five siblings.

I could be anyone I wasn’t.
I could be anyone I’d like to be.

Over ten years ago, a friend of mine said that he wrote like crazy because he was afraid that one day, he couldn’t write anymore. At the moment, I couldn’t understand the sentiment, but as I grow older, I realized that I feel this way when it comes to reading.

The clock is ticking. I only have so much time, while there are still so many books I want to read. I can feel myself getting anxious when I think of how, for sure, I won’t be able to catch up.

I have a book-FOMO.
And I guess I’ll just have to live with it.


10 Responses

  1. Hear hear. I thought about taking sabatical leaves to just read. I also thought to beg all writers and publishers to stop creating and producing books, because I want to keep up with my TBR list, and yet there are always interesting new books on the market.

    1. OMG, I want that, too!!! I want A YEAR OF READING AND RELAXATION :)) (btw, have you read mosfegh’s the year of rest & relaxation? XD). What are some books on your TBR? 😀

  2. Right now, if I don’t read any more books this year and read 50 books a year from now until I clear out my Goodreads “want to read” shelf, it would take me 12 years. And that’s without adding any new books to my list. So you are definitely not the only one with this feeling, lol. I sometimes end up frustrated that I don’t have enough time to both read and pursue all my other hobbies as much as I want, plus keeping up with house cleaning and chores like that.

    I’ve been thinking about how many countries recently have gone to 4 day work weeks. I live in the US so that probably won’t happen here in my lifetime, but as I progress in my career, I’m definitely wondering how I could make that work for me because we spend so much time working and not enough time doing the things that make life enjoyable and interesting.

    1. OMG, that ’50 books a year’ statement made me anxious LOL :))

      I didn’t have this feeling before, only recently (the last 6 months), and I am still wondering why… is it because of the pandemic? Feeling like reading is the only way for me to experience the world while the years are passing by?

      I also tried audio books, to listen to while I’m cooking or cleaning the house or drawing/painting… but I realised that I do not really enjoy audio books -____- I feel like I cannot concentrate fully on what I am doing, and I cannot concentrate on listening to the story as well.

      I hope we’ll find a way to make enough time for all the good things in life! 🙂

  3. …lived precariously? I’m glad I’m not the only one who writes the wrong word [or perhaps auto-correct did it].
    For years, we always were concerned there was not enough time to see all the places we wanted to travel to, but in recent years we dampened that fear with gratitude for all we have been able to do.
    But I think Alie shares your fear. Early in our marriage, she took along 25 books for a two-week vacation. Now she still always has a book in her purse or in the car to read in any free moment – for instance, while I am pumping gas.

    1. LOL, edited. although my childhood did feel quite precarious :)) :)) :)) Hello, Alie! I used to do that, too, well, actually I am still doing that, but now I only bring 1 physical book and the rest are in my Kindle 😀

  4. Halo mbak Hanny. Salam kenal dgn Messa di sini 🙂 Dulu kayaknya aku pernah ngikutin mbak di instagram. Tapi skrg aku udah absen dari ig. Btw, aku juga sempat merasa seperti yg mbak tuliskan ini. Buku2ku masih ada yg belum habis kubaca tapi kadang kubeli lg dan jadinya menambah timbunan lg. ? skrg kubilang ke diriku supaya baca dulu buku2 yg ada sampai habis, satu per satu, barulah bisa beli buku baru lagi.

  5. Thank you for writing this, and helping me understand this social phenomenon. I came across your post while searching for “fomo second hand bookstores overwhelm” on Google. I’m a bookseller who wants to understand the fear of missing out on reading books. This is a trend I am seeing more and more each year, and it’s worrying me because I feel it is coming at the expense of living in the moment and enjoying the long view of reading books as a journey whose meaning derives in part precisely because it is limited.

    When a customer feels overwhelmed and approaches me for help, I turn the problem on its head. Imagine the opposite scenario, by which a simple, effortless snap of the fingers would be enough for a person to read not just every book in the store, but every book that has ever been written, every book in print right now, and, yes, every book that will ever be written. There. No more books left to read. No more anxiety about making “the right” choice.

    This thought experiment doesn’t always work. After all, if a 17-year-old spends 4 hours a day on social media, no single thought experiment is going to be enough to overpower the other-orientated perfectionism that comes with +1,000 hours of passive exposure to “social” media and the tremendous expectations it can generate in how one “should” live.

    But in the cases that this thought experiment does work, customers put their problem into context and realise that eradicating all choice by way of a Midas Touch cheat code will also eradicate the very conditions that introduce value to our lives. It is precisely because we are finite creatures who cannot help but miss out on the 825 lifestyle images we see each day, that the best we can do is embrace the power of limit with gratitude, humility, and realism.

    Not every book we read is a masterpiece that will “change our lives” and help us transcend the desperate mundane grind and ascend into the realm of divine enlightenment. Some books will be ok. Others will be disappointing. And still others will leave us feeling ambivalent. But that all goes with the territory of reading books. We cannot help but be limited. More than that, the very reality of limit is what makes our reading lives meaningful. Take away limits, and you annihilate any meaning attached to reading books.

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Legs and Apples
Do it because it’s fun. Because it brings you joy; because it’s meaningful to you. Do it because it gives you simple tiny pleasures. Do it because it makes you smile.
The view from De Klok
I took another digital detox this weekend—I limited myself to a 5-minute screen time on Saturday and Sunday to quickly check my business account. I closed my social media account for the rest of the days.
Hanny illustrator
I am an Indonesian writer/artist/illustrator and stationery web shop owner (Cafe Analog) based in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. I love facilitating writing/creative workshops and retreats, especially when they are tied to self-exploration and self-expression. In Indonesian, 'beradadisini' means being here. So, here I am, documenting life—one word at a time.