Existentialism in Bookstores

Book and Hour Glass

I’ve hit a point in my life where I now have an existential crisis every time I walk into a bookstore.

Years ago, bookstores (and libraries) were places of solace for me. I couldn’t wait until I was older so I could go to a bookstore on my own and spend the day browsing and sitting cross-legged on the floor between the shelves, reading ten books at a time and daydreaming. Now I’m old enough to do just that, but it doesn’t go so well when I try it.

Now my adrenalin rushes when I walk into a bookstore. Just by glancing at the shelves, lined with thousands of book spines facing out at me, I’m reminded that there are too many books out there. I’m reminded that I don’t have the money to buy however many books I want because I want them all (besides the crappy ones). I’m reminded that even if I do have the money, I will quickly run out of places to put these books. I then start to think that I would be better off utilizing my Kindle, or checking a book out of the library for free instead, and that I’ve made a terrible mistake by walking through the bookstore’s doors. I’m reminded about all of the books I bought on a whim that are still sitting on my shelf unread. I’m reminded that I don’t have the time to read all of the (not crappy) books in the world, not only because my free time is limited, but because my lifetime as a human is limited. Death will prevent me from reading everything I want to read. There are too many darn books.

A few months ago, a couple of friends of mine and I exchanged thoughts on why we each want live forever. One said that he wants to live forever so he can become a sort of vigilante and save people. The other said she would use her immortality to have sex constantly. I said I would use mine to read every book in the world.

Thus, when I walk into a bookstore, knowing that I can never be immortal, I feel uneasy and start to question my life and the choices I’ve made along the way. I start to question why I want to read in the first place, or why I care that much about being a writer. Which then spirals into questioning how a writer can ever feel satisfied, or how humans can ever be happy in general—because the one thing  that once gave me so much pleasure (browsing through bookstores) now makes me feel overwhelmed, inadequate, and on a terrifying personal deadline.

Moments of existential angst, of course, can be prompted by anything—not just by visiting a bookstore. Bookstores just tend to be my trigger for the life-is-too-short feeling that (I think) is universal. Sometimes I wonder how we can even stand to contemplate existence and meaning without imploding. But even though I feel pressure to measure my life by how many books I read, I also hate rushing. Rushing makes the process less enjoyable.

Maybe of all types of people, readers have the right to slow down, because we live a new life with every book or story we finish. Maybe reading makes us exist more.

Have you ever had a life crisis in a bookstore? Am I alone in this?


6 thoughts on “Existentialism in Bookstores

  1. Fear not, dear Steph.. Life is long and no matter how many books you read, you will never read them all. Knowing that can free you, too. Don’t look at it as a deadline, but look at it as a mission to make sure that what you do read is valuable to your life. Every challenge can be viewed as a way to think outside the box.


    1. Thank you so much for reblogging my post, Brian! Do you mind if I ask how you came across my post? I love expanding my reach.


  2. Interesting thoughts…I’d say I share the same, at times, too. That underlying anxiety of – too many books, not enough time to read them – which oddly often translates into – too many books, not a fat chance in heaven yours will ever make it. Haha.

    But there is a peace that comes when we silence that anxiety, because really, what else is feeding that fire but voices and pressures in this society that say you NEED. Because isn’t that what it’s become? These bookstores? With their fancy bookmarks, and fancy magazines, and fancy mugs to buy, and fancy journals, and nooks, and stuffed animals…like we really need more. We can’t live, can’t exist without buying more. And surely we have to buy and read everything that every person ever writes, because we NEED that, too. We need to hear what they all have to say – because everyone has something to say these days and surely it takes a book to do it, right?

    No. We don’t need. And we don’t read because we need.
    We read to see, to learn, to feel, to cry, to laugh, to grow, to relate to, to dream…
    And in that process, yes, our needs can be met.
    But we don’t seek out books and bookstores because we need.

    Don’t buy into the commercialism, which is really all it is.
    Keep reading and writing just what it is…an art.

    You’ll never read every book.
    And I don’t think you are supposed to, either.
    You’ll read that ones that will make YOU come alive. The ones that will help YOU exist.
    All others are just voices…in a noisy crowd.
    Listen for the music, not the murmur.


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