According to Bowker’s Books in Print, there were 2,714,409 new books printed in English in 2015. Given that this extraordinary number represents only one year’s publication in English, how many books were published in all languages over the last twenty years? How many in the last fifty? Certainly, an impossible number to read.
One of the benefits of modern life is the extraordinary availability of knowledge in written form. Some centuries ago, it was possible to be familiar with all the scholarship that existed at the time. That is no longer possible. Nowadays, so much information is offered on the one hand, while the hectic pressures of modern life hurries us along with the other. Caught between the two, the result is a persistent “hover”. We never fully alight, either physically or mentally.
I’ve experienced that phenomenon many times. I whirl about, appearing busy, while I accomplish absolutely nothing. I have so much to do, I don’t have the time to do any of it. The result is a twitchy me. Luckily, those moments are rare.
Of course, there is a solution, and that is to pick one thing to get done and finish it. What amazes me is that I have to deliberately resort to tactics more familiar to me as a child than an adult, but such is modernity.
Now, should you find yourself in a complete dither—a hover on steroids—do recall that according to Pareto, only twenty percent of what must be done is really important, but that too can be problematic given the number of tasks that sit before us, waiting. It’s no doubt overwhelming.
Should you find yourself feeling that way, may I suggest Plan B: a cup of coffee and a good book. If that seems illogical, it isn’t. Allow me to point out that another peculiar aspect of modern life is that whatever we don’t do today will be there to vex us tomorrow—our phones will even remind us—so you might as well sit down, take a load off, and relax. You’ll also be happy to know that for every book you manage to finish, some 400,000 new ones will be available for your perusal. To put a positive spin on that: you won’t run out of reading material anytime soon. Cream? Sugar? Or do you take it black?