Are there too many books?

Posted March 8, 2020 by Lory in discussions / 37 Comments



In my youth, books were not always easy to find; now they seem to be assaulting me from every direction. New, old, domestic, imported, print books, e-books, conventionally published, self-published…. This abundance is amazing, but it sometimes feels a bit oppressive.

Even though I have a “no review requests” policy on my blog, I still get hopeful emails from authors asking me to read their new book. There are so many of these out there, looking for readers! And I sincerely hope they will find an audience, but I start to wonder: are there enough readers for all these books? Do we need so many new books? What would happen if, say, we put a hold on publishing for the next year, and just made do with what we have? Or cut the supply by half — or nine-tenths? If we weren’t so overwhelmed with riches, would we value the remainder more?

This is not a serious proposal. I could never say to any particular book or author, “You are the one that has to go!” Even if a book is not for me, I want to leave the possibility open that someday, somehow, it will find the person who needs to read it. To me, infinite possibilities are what reading is all about.

Everybody thinks their story has never been told before, and needs to be told. And it’s true. But how shall we find the time to listen, the space to look? How can we, within our mortal limitations, grapple with all this boundless creativity?

How do you deal with the feeling that there are too many books?

Linked in the Book Blog Discussion Challenge hosted by Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction and Shannon @ It Starts at Midnight!

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37 responses to “Are there too many books?

  1. Long ago I decided that I’ll just have to survive with reading what I can and that there will be tons of great books out there that I’ll never read. That’s why I don’t waste my time reading a book I’m not enjoying or that is poorly written.

  2. There are definitely too many books. I believe librarians are very prone to this feeling! Personally, I might consider getting rid of diet, real estate, investment, and most management books. And probably the ones that prophesy an imminent economic collapse, and the ones about “natural cures the doctors don’t want you to know about.” But those aren’t the ones I read, after all! I might keep the ones about benevolent aliens who speak to us through crystals, and so on, for the entertainment.

    I’m trying to be more choosy, but the piles of good, worthwhile books just keep growing. There is more to read and to learn than I will ever manage. Fortunately for me, I believe in an afterlife that involves a lot more learning. And meanwhile, I guess I’ll just watch the piles grow faster than I can read them.

    • Oh, librarians must feel quite weighed down sometimes. Some of those outdated ones do deserve to go on the discard pile (and one really wonders who ever could have been interested in the first place).

  3. Turning 40 made me realize that I don’t have to finish every book I start because my reading time was limited. Turning 70 made me realize that, since my future reading time is limited, I might as well indulge myself from now on by reading only books that I believe are truly worth my time. And I shortly thereafter discovered that this approach has truly lifted me out of the dark despair of knowing I’ll never read every book in the world. This approach also means that now I almost never pick a dud of a book because I’m so choosy about what I pick up. (This approach, however, has not diminished my TBR shelf’s tendency to grow . . . .)

    • I am choosier too. And more prone to not finish books that aren’t doing anything for me. The TBR does not get shorter, though.

  4. Haha, I just try not to think about it! I’m glad so many books are published and I don’t think it’s a problem, but I do find it a bit depressing if I think about how many books I want to read and whether I’m likely to get to all of them in my lifetime.

  5. What an interesting question! I guess I try to take comfort in it (an uncharacteristically glass-half-full approach, ha!). Whenever I start feeling overwhelmed about HOW MANY BOOKS there are (or, more domestically, HOW MANY BOOKS are overflowing from the shelves in my hallway), I remind myself of what a privilege and wonder it is that, even as a book-lover and a voracious reader, I will *never* get to “the end”. A scarcity mindset is something I struggle with – I tend to take waste-not-want-not to the extreme, sometimes – so I remind myself almost daily that books are the one thing that will never, ever, ever “run out”. There will always be the anticipation and the potential of a new great read, and isn’t that wonderful? 😉❤️

    • Yes, it is a great privilege and a wonder indeed! I like that glass-half-full approach. 🙂

  6. There are definitely more books than I can ever hope to read in my remaining time on this planet. I’m therefore becoming more prone to abandoning books I am not enjoying.
    I don’t think we can stop all books being published so we can catch up (as appealing as that might be) but I would be happy if there were never any more autobiographies by so called celebrities…

    • It wouldn’t help me much to catch up, so let’s bring on the new books and I’ll just flounder along as best I can.

  7. I understand this feeling too. There are too many books now and access to them too. The quality of what is publishable got lower also. I remember back in Russia my parents experienced the time when people will fight to death for one single book – they were so precious and whole talk shows were hosted where the main prize was – yes – a book! Now, it is unbelievable how many books are available but, comparatively, only a few of them really amount to anything, actually.

    • There are still gems out there, but I confess I’m not always impressed by the hyped books of the moment. I wonder if in all this overload some very worthy publications are getting overlooked.

  8. An interesting post, Lory. Yes, such a lot of books. I’ve given up trying to keep up, and read randomly. I’m made some surprising discoveries this way.

    • It’s good to not be too deliberate all the time. The workings of random chance sometimes choose wisely for us.

  9. I feel like whenever I walk into a book store I’m overwhelmed with how many books are out there! But I manage that feeling by reminding myself that I’m in no way obligated to read all the books that are out there.

    And I think I’d be upset if new books ceased being published for a while. I like the anticipation of waiting for a new book. And there have been so many new releases that have become favorite books because they wrote a story I’ve never seen done before. Even in the genres that I don’t read, I want more books to be published so that everyone else can experience the same anticipation and discover their new favorites, much like I do! To me to good outweighs the bad, and I hope I never see a time when there’s a lack of new books coming out!

  10. I’ve rarely had the feeling that there were too many books, and am starting to want to stockpile more, with the threat of quarantine drawing close.

  11. I got SUPER overwhelmed with how many books I was accepting for reviews from authors and publishers awhile back. I was incredibly grateful for their gifts, but I had to find a process for myself that was sustainable. I’m ALMOST through my list of backlogged reviews that I need to do. Then I’m hoping to take a break for awhile and just work with a few of the authors that I have worked with consistently over the last few years.

    I think with self publishing and Amazon, there has definitely been an influx of book availability! I try not to let myself get too overwhelmed. I know I’ll never be able to read all the books I want to read 🙂 It’s definitely crazy to think about though!!

    • Exactly, I’m so grateful for all we have available to us, and yet it means I have to make a plan or be buried/paralyzed/driven round the bend by it all. There are definitely worse problems, so I don’t mean to complain.

  12. I do feel quite stressed out when I go into a bookshop and see all the books and can’t decide what to do – but I have that problem in ALL shops with everything, so it’s not really literature-specific!

    Apart from that, I feel very happy that there are so many books out there, catering to lots of different tastes and interests. I know I’ll always have something interesting to read or reread. There has always been a finite number of books I’ll manage to read in my lifetime, so whether I am choosing that number from 5 million or 10 million possible books makes no great difference to me. What IS important is that I can easily find books I’d like to read and that I can easily obtain them. This is truly a blessing.

    (Though sometimes this makes me buy more than I should.)

    It has changed our culture – compared to say the Renaissance, when (wealthier) people would read comparatively few books but know them in an intimate way that we probably never will. That’s a difference, though, not necessarily a bad thing.

    • Also (sorry to witter on) as our societies change we need new stories, new perspectives. So I wouldn’t be happy with stopping publishing new books, even if only for a year…

      • Well, as I said I was not seriously proposing that! The new voices are important, and often have the most inspiring and incredible stories. I would never want to silence them.

        At the same time, I wonder if we could discipline ourselves to read a few books thoroughly – not by necessity as with our ancestors, but by choice. Is there a book you read over and over?

        • Indeed you didn’t seriously propose it! 🙂

          There’s no single book I reread over and over, but there are some I’ve reread more than others. The usual suspects, I think: Austen, the Brontes, Barbara Comyns, Rosamund Lehmann, Woolf, DWJ, Joan Aiken, Iris Murdoch, Izak Dinesen, Georgette Heyer – actually that’s qute a lot and all women… What about you?

          • It’s similar for me. Some people say “I read book X every year,” but I’m not so organized. Austen, Bronte, Aiken and Heyer are favorites for me too.

  13. CurlyGeek

    I am definitely feeling like there are too many books! But I’m glad there seems to be a lot of diversity in what is being published. I have to remind myself there’s no value in trying to read too much or too fast. Though lately I find a lot of the covers and titles these days of the most commercial books all look the same.

    • Yes, stop with the similar titles and trendy covers please! I know it must be hard to come up with something original, but some are just not even trying.

  14. I definitely think there are too many poorly written/poorly edited books being published. The combination of publishers pushing their older and more accomplished editors out the door and numerous self-published books (barely edited) results in some pretty weak titles.

    • Editing is the hidden side of book production. Though the editor’s name doesn’t go on the cover, editing (or the lack thereof) plays a very important role in the final product that we see. It’s sad to see this profession in decline.

  15. Another thought provoking post! I feel like one thing I do well is not allow myself to be overwhelmed by the amount of books out in the world today. My TBR has almost 900 books on it. The list grows continuously. I don’t expect to enjoy them all, or even read them all in my lifetime. I focus on the books at hand and enjoying what I am reading in the moment. If I have a good experience with a book, then I don’t fret about missing other good experiences from the books I don’t have time for. I take things one book at a time. (That being said, it can be difficult to find those ‘just right for me’ books when there are so many options…but as you note, I would never want less books out in the world because each book has its reader.)

    • It’s a good reminder to try to focus on one book at a time — which is all we can read at once really.

  16. I am not dealing too well with it, and making my situation even worse, as I can read in 4 languages and teaching myself to also read in Italian!! Right now, besides read-alongs with other bloggers or students, I only pick the audio format for books in French (my native language). Otherwise, I am not sure how to do it. I am in my 50s, how can I catch up with so many amazing books to read in these languages (French, English, Spanish, and Italian). And oh, I’m learning Russian, though I doubt I’ll ever be able to read a novel, maybe just picture books

    • Oh no, I had not thought of that aspect of learning more languages. Even more books that you don’t have time to read! Help!