I’m about to start reading The Dictionary of Lost Words and I can’t get into it quickly enough. You see, I suffer from bookish FOMO. I hate hearing about a book that I haven’t read, and enduring months of hearing people around talking or writing about it.
These books fill my Facebook and Bookstagram feeds, are the topics of podcast episodes and are featured in the weekend newspaper. One year it is Normal People, another it might be Boy Swallows Universe or Where the Crawdads Sing.
For a while, I shrug my shoulders, thinking, “I don’t need to try to read every book that’s waved in front of me, just because it’s popular,” before finally succumbing, ravenously reading it (much to the disgust of my ever-growing tbr pile) and joining the conversation.
The thing is, even though I know that it’s important to support books that don’t get the airtime that the IT books of any year receive, it’s just so hard to let one of the bookish debates over whether a book deserved all the fuss pass me by.
Afterall, talking about books is almost as fun as reading them, and any conversation falls flat after you’ve recommended everyone must read an obscure book that you loved but no one else has read or even heard of. The quiet achievers are every bit as worthwhile as their bestselling contemporaries, they just don’t have the same social appeal as the others.
I love a book that I can gush over, or assert that it wasn’t worth all of the fuss. I want to see if my friends and family loved or hated the same characters that I did, and whether they thought they had made the right decisions.
Immediately after reading a book, I can’t resist finding out what others thought of it; I go straight to Google to read reviews. Was it panned or praised, and why?
It is one of the reasons why the well-loved classics offer so much – generations of readers before me have provided their impressions of books like Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. In a way, reading these books is like joining a conversation that has been happening for many years and continues today.
It was the same with the Harry Potter books. After finishing the series, I finally understood what everyone had been talking about for so long and now I could take part in the conversation.
My bookish FOMO has reached the stage that I can’t bear to see another shortlist for a literary prize – all I can think about is how few of the books I have read and how much I want to know what they’re all about. I want to unlock the secrets behind their title and cover.
I still haven’t started the Stella Prize-winning Bass Rock by Evie Wyld, and now I’ve heard that Amanda Lohrey’s Labyrinth has won the Miles Franklin Literary Prize. Then there is this year’s Booker to start … And don’t even get me started on all of the ‘Best of’ lists released at the end of the year – there’s no way I can keep up.
Interestingly, the IT books of each year are not necessarily the ones that hold up over the years. Judging by the bestseller list for each year from 1918 in Lithub’s Here are the Biggest Fiction Bestsellers of the Last 100 Years, many fade away without a trace.
Reading the list, there were many, many books I had never heard of, although there were some obvious exceptions (I’m looking at you, Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence). Often, the most enduring books were not among the bestsellers.
In 1922, F Scott Fitzgerald published The Beautiful and the Damned, Marcel Proust released Swann’s Way (English translation) and James Joyce published Ulysses, but none of these appeared in the bestseller list.
According to the list, The Great Gatsby was not one of the most popular books published in 1925, but A Hamilton Gibbs’ Soundings was placed first on the list.
More recently, Zadie Smith’s White Teeth failed to find a place on the bestseller list that was topped by John Grisham’s The Brethren, while in 2001, The Life of Pi by Yann Martel and Atonement by Ian McEwan failed to rate a mention in the bestselling list in which Jerry B. Jenkins and Tim LaHaye’s Desecration sat at the top.
All of this leads me to think that it might be worth letting go of my bookish FOMO and trying some quieter achievers. While I still want to be able to argue and debate some IT books, I don’t need to cling on to each one. Without jumping on the latest literary craze, I might even have the opportunity to make my way through my enormous tbr pile … and discover some hidden gems at the same time.
It will just have to wait until after I’ve finished The Dictionary of Lost Words …