Not The Features Ed Blog: Books, Books Everywhere (And Not A Thing To Read)


Like most of the “Friend” team, you’ll rarely find me without a book — or more usually — books on the go. As well as the latest Book Club read, at any one time I’ll generally be partway through a lunchtime book, a bedtime book and a “been-meaning-to-read-this-for-a-while” book, plus the odd audio book for good measure.

Recently, however, all those partway-through tomes came to an end at the same time. For reasons I can’t explain, finishing one book and picking up the next is a seamless process. Finishing all of them so close together left me temporarily bookless!

There’s a Japanese word — tsundoku — the habit of piling up books that you haven’t got round to reading.

That’s me. Especially if there’s an electronic equivalent. Books on shelves, tables (all right, floors as well) and compressed into millions of bytes on an e-reader all lined up waiting to be opened. But what to choose?

Psychologists tell us too much choice can be paralysing. (I agree!) Author of the book “The Paradox of Choice”, psychologist Barry Schwartz, has a very entertaining TED talk on the subject. Purposely narrowing down our choices can be healthy.

Once upon a time, in another career, I worked with a team of actuaries.

Those guys are really fond of numbers – and books, as it happens. Influenced by their enthusiasms, I worked out how many books I could expect to be able to read given average life expectancy and reading speed.

(Hey, it’s more fun than calculating pensions!) I’m not going to tell you the exact answer, but it was between 3,000 and 4,000. Such an exercise definitely concentrates the mind when choosing the next title!)

Funnily enough, writer Oliver Burkeman has gone through a similar process for his forthcoming book 4,000 weeks: Time Management for Mortals. As someone who ponders “productivity, mortality, the power of limits, and building a meaningful life in an age of bewilderment” for a living, he has much of interest to say about making the most of our time in a sensible, no-nonsense way.

Oliver’s book isn’t out yet. But I have an earlier book of his, “The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking” sitting on one of my many “to be read” piles. I think I’ve just solved my problem of what to read next!

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Marion McGivern

As editor of the cookery, money, pets and eco pages, Marion covers a wide range of regular Features content. Along with the rest of the Team, she enjoys finding interesting features for both the weekly and Special issues that readers will love. Having so much variety every day means that over ten years with the “Friend” has just flown by!