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?

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