Overwhelmed by books

Maybe it’s just the end of the semester bearing down on me, but I’m feeling overwhelmed in a number of ways.  Overwhelmed by work, yes, but also by too much information, too much information, even, about books.  Do you have the sense, sometimes, that there is simply way too much to learn and keep track of and explore?

For example, I usually take a look at the New York Times Book Review on Sunday mornings, and this past week they had a special issue on fiction in translation.  That’s great, but I flipped through it, recognizing only one of two of the names, and I couldn’t find the energy to focus on any one review to see if I might like the book enough to record the title and author on my to-be-read list.  It’s not that I’m not interested, really; it’s just that I can’t seem to absorb any new names.  I feel badly about this, because I really would like to learn about more authors, especially international ones, but at some point, my mind gets saturated with new information, and I simply can’t take any more in.

Mostly my experiences of reading book reviews and book blogs are positive ones, but at times, I feel myself pushing back against the flood of information coming from these sources. I look at book lists sometimes and I don’t see a familiar name, or I skim a blog post and don’t recognize the title and author the blogger is discussing, and I find myself wanting to run away rather than to find out more.

I don’t mean to sound whiny, and I’m sure at some point this spring or summer, I’ll be back to adding new books to my TBR list every day, practically, but I do think there are times when I need to retreat a little into familiarity.  This probably accounts for my decision to read Gaskell right now; although I’m not all that familiar with her in particular, I’m very familiar with the kind of novel she writes and her time period.  Victorian novels are a favorite kind of comfort read for me.

Perhaps I should save that special section on fiction in translation, though, for that time I’m itching for something new.

13 Comments

Filed under Books, Life

13 responses to “Overwhelmed by books

  1. I can relate to this feeling. Sometimes I find it difficult to negotiate the sheer volume of books published- it’s so easy to just stay with what I already know. That’s why I like reading blogs and going to good bookshops that give reliable recommendations.

  2. Sounds like you might have a mild case of burnout.

    Sometimes there are just too much information (online and otherwise), and I have to re-read a post several times before I can bring myself to comprehend what’s going on. It’s like too many things are grabbing at you, and you end up spreading your attention too thin.

    Retreat into familiarity sounds like a good idea. It will help you recharge, give you some breathing space.

    Understand totally the comfort of Victorian lit. There was a time in school when we were overwhelmed with too many Nouveau Roman/postmodern fiction on the syllabus – a lot of us were suddenly craving a good wholesome Bronte to keep us sane.

  3. I think our reading can tell us a lot about where we are, what we are feeling, and how best to look after ourselves. Sometimes we’re in the mood for novelty and adventure; at others, curling up with a book we’ve read a dozen times is all that can be faced. All of this is good and just as it should be, provided we don’t fight against our own natures. You read just whatever you most want, Dorothy, and never feel you have to justify that.

  4. I understand that overwhelming feeling. I was just thinking about how I tend to be very persuaded by a good review (usually from another blogger) and what the rest of the world is reading. Some books just seem to be very popular and I sometimes feel like I am not reading the right books. Of course that is completely silly, I know. I have my own little stack which other readers may have heard of or not, but then I nelgect my stack for what everyone else is reading. And there is so much out there. Just the sheer volume of what I want to read…book blogs, magazines, newspapers, and my books. It is neverending and it almost makes me feel tired at the end of the day, as I think I haven’t even read the tip of what I should be reading. Anyway, I think your decision to just read the Gaskell and push everything else out of your mind is a good idea!!! But do save that review…you never know. See, I haven’t even gotten to that…yet another thing I am behind on reading…

  5. Overload! Yes, the sheer volume of books, new and old, that are waiting out there sometimes becomes overwhelming. My stacks begin to feel like a duty rather than a pleasure. Having all of these titles available is a kind of double-edged sword…

  6. Yes, yes and yes and omg, YES.

    I’ve been considering a blog and internet fast for quite some time, actually. I sometimes feel pelted by information and by book titles. I wonder what it would be like to turn the computer off for a week and see what happens…

  7. Yeah, Jess, it helps to have blogs to help me sort through all the information out there, although sometimes I even find blogs overwhelming. But this is a cycle, I think, and I won’t always feel this way.

    Dark Orpheus — I think you’re right about burnout. This is partly why I have a looser posting schedule, although I still post pretty regularly. I’m trying to cut back on computer time a bit, but it’s so hard!

    Thanks Litlove! I like the idea of reading as a possible measure of our psychic health — you’re right that it does tell us stuff about how we are feeling. I hadn’t quite thought of it like that.

    Danielle, you’re right — the thing to do it to save the review for when I’m feeling better because I know I’ll want it sooner or later. And it IS hard not to feel that I’m reading all the wrong things — there is just so much! And so much that interests me.

    Jenclair, when the stacks feel like a duty, that strikes me as a bad sign; it’s time, then, to back off a bit and do more for fun.

    Diana, I’m intrigued by a blog and internet fast. I’m not sure I could do it, actually; the computer is just so tempting, and I need to use it for work, which would make it hard not to just sneak a peak at a blog or too. But I am intrigued …

  8. I can completely relate. I don’t think I’d be able to cut myself off for a week like Diana suggests, but maybe a weekend.

  9. Don’t feel bad! This is so, so, so familiar. And books aren’t the only problem (I’ve sort of, but not really, quit reading the Sunday NYT Book Review, but I still have my friend who gives me the TLS when he’s done, and now Slightly Foxed and blogs and staff picks at bookstores…It’s just too much.) I go to a science conference, attend a session on Field Guides and decide I want to start expanding my knowledge of wild flowers and trees. A friend tells me about letter boxing, and I become intrigued. We decide to subscribe to DVR, and now I’ve got tons of shows and movies lined up to watch. I read an article about wine and decide I want to go to more tastings and learn more about it. (It’s that old suggestibility thing again, I guess.)

  10. Oh yes, I can relate. Not all the time but there are some days that I feel like I’m just never going to catch up to all the reading I want to do and I have to take a deep breath and realize I’m not in a contest! It’s like I have to come back to reality and just read for enjoyment. Sounds like you are turning to the type of books that you need to at the moment. Hope the feeling goes away soon.

  11. Stefanie — a weekend does seem more manageable, doesn’t it? It would be an interesting experiment.

    Emily, thanks. What you describe is exactly it — complete overload.

    Iliana, indeed — it’s no contest!

  12. Every time I see some liblogger jumping up and down (verbally) for delight at an interview with or new book by an author I’ve never heard of, I feel pretty out of the loop, like I shouldn’t even be trying to pretend that I know anything about literature. I get so intimidated by it that I can’t even think about absorbing anything.

    Glad I’m not the only one who feels overwhelmed by information.

  13. Amos — absolutely, you are not the only one.

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