The recent phenomenon of book publishers putting relatively high-prestige titles on deep discount for their digital versions — for anywhere from ninety-cents to four bucks — has been both a blessing and a curse for me. I definitely appreciate being able to pick up books on the cheap, and in addition to boosting my pleasure-reading piles for whenever I have the time to get to those (I was practicing tsundoku long before I heard that word used to describe it), I’ve found some genuinely useful books for my career and research that way as well. These sales aren’t necessarily advertised that widely, though, either by publishers or stores or independent services like BookBub; last Monday, for example, many books by and about the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. were on deep discount, but I only found out about this by specifically searching for them.
I did that searching because I’ve made it an early-day ritual to go through my wishlist to see if any of the books I need for my current research — I’m pretty sure that I’m at well over a hundred of those right now — have been put on any kind of appreciable sale. As it happened, a collection of King’s speeches that I’d put on that list was on sale for $1.99, a fifth of its normal cost, and when I realized that it was the national holiday to celebrate King’s birthday, a quick search on his name revealed the discounts on other books either about him or written by him. That ritual has become more and more time-consuming as the number of research books on my wishlist keeps growing, but the amount of money I’ve been able to save that way has made the effort worth it, at least to some extent.
The problem, again, is my tsundoku. Even if it’s not so easy for me to see the number of ebooks I bought but haven’t read by looking at my tablet, part of me still feels that weight on a weird, almost psychic level. I swear that my tablet feels heavier now than it did before I bought all those ebooks. More to the point, a lot of the titles I need to read have been out of print for ages, and will likely never be released as ebooks, so I have to buy physical copies of those, and I’ve already bought so many of them that I now have four separate piles of books to be read in my bedroom, just behind the workstation I’m typing these words on right now. (It probably doesn’t help that I’m trying to be extra-cautious during the COVID-19 pandemic here, buying physical books before I need to read them so I can “quarantine” them in a separate room for a week before I open them up.) Given how these past few months have gone, I’m guessing that I’ll start having more piles to deal with here soon, long before I’m able to make an appreciable dent in them.
Today is the first day of spring semester, and since I have so many classes to teach for the next four months — especially classes that I’ve never taught before, or have to teach using materials I haven’t used in previous classes — my ability to spend lots of time reading has been hampered by the more pressing need to prepare for this semester, especially this all-important first week. In addition to getting back into the routine of teaching this week, I’m also going to be pushing myself to post a new video before the end of the month, so I probably won’t be able to read so much here until February. These things are bound to happen as I struggle to balance all these competing aspects of my life, but I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t feel totally overwhelmed right now.
As much as people around me have expressed relief as a result of this past week’s events, I think it’s important to remember that most of the work we need to do to make things better still remains to be done. The same holds true for all the work I’ve been doing here; getting a bunch of books on deep discount is wonderful, but nothing is going to save me from the hard work of reading those books, and then synthesizing their knowledge with my own to write my next book. Those piles of books here in my bedroom might not tower over me, but I still feel trapped in their shadows right now, and no matter how much light I may have from other aspects of my life, I still need to do the hard work of escaping those shadows. I hope I feel ready for that work again here soon, because just thinking about what I have left to do right now is making my stomach hurt.