I should first say that my staunchest opinion on the ‘right’ amount of books is this: it is the right amount of books for you.
If you’re happy to buy more than you have any hope of reading, I agree. If you prefer to own none and opt for the library instead, I think you’re right there, too.
But, personally, I’m somewhere in the middle. While I’m more than okay with filling my bookshelves, I do sustain a hope, however naïve, that I can and will read all of them. In that case, my ‘too many books’ is yearly buying that outstrips my reading. I don’t have data from past years, but this year, according to my spreadsheet, I bought 43 books, which is under half the number I’ve read so far, total.
Now, barring the fact that I’ve only read 28 of them (🙈), I think this is a suitable number for a collection I’m trying not to grow too quickly. For instance, I’ve gotten rid of at least that many, for a thoroughly braggable amount of Zia Records store credit, and if you further exclude the titles I have locked in to future TBRs, only 5 truly slipped through the cracks. For someone who wants to read everything they buy, I think that’s pretty good. Ultimately, the numbers are on my side, which is certainly more than could’ve been said for me in past years.
Because, as my present fastidiousness may have suggested, I definitely used to buy too many books. (The above disclaimer still stands: too many books for me.) I made weekly trips to the bookstore, kept no track of my new books and whether or not I’d read them, and often allowed myself to bring home more titles over the course of a month than I’d ever have hope of finishing.
On its own, this wouldn’t be a problem, if it just happened not to bother me, but it later became an actual source of stress. I’d feel guilt, which I’d assuage with more books, thus amplifying the problem. I’d feel like I couldn’t check out books from the library with so many waiting for me at home (absurd; you can always check out books from the library). And I’d overbuy “smart” books that I was unlikely to actually get to––classics, which are only a moderate piece of my reading pie, and nonfiction, which won’t even break double digits for me this year.
And herein lies the true meaning of ‘too many books:’ it’s so many that owning them no longer makes you happy.
Look, we’re tired mortals who fill our nests with possessions and our time with all the little joys we can find. I think the pressure to read new, American publishing’s reliance on hardcover releases, and the arbitrary legitimacy attached to a larger book collection are troubling, but I also think that keeping books is one of life’s great pleasures; one I’m certainly not going to begrudge anyone enjoying.
But if you want to keep to a number you can conceivably read, I’d advise: 1) buying for the reading habits (volume and genre) that you have, and not the ones you want, 2) keeping track of what you buy, and 3) only going to the bookstore with a plan in mind.
Otherwise, load your house with as many books as you like, and I won’t stop you. Only this: however you acquire books, don’t feel like you have to do it that way, and don’t feel like you’re not allowed to, either.
Thank you so much for reading! How do you feel about this topic? Where do you draw the ‘too many books’ line? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below 💕