I’m traveling right now. I actually brought some non-digital comics with me, which is rare. I’ve written about my distaste for flying with comics, but I’d bought these ones over a month ago and still hadn’t had or made the time to crack them open. I ended up reading the Underwater Welder on the flight; easily my most anticipated book of the year and it took me until the end of December to read it. I don’t even remember the last graphic novel I finished. I have a few with bookmarks in them back home on the nightstand because I can’t stand bringing partially finished books with me on a trip. There’s something about carrying around the weight of already read content with me that just gets under my skin. “I’ve already consumed your information, pages! Now I have to carry you around?”
The sad thing is that traveling is one of the few times where I tell myself it’s actually OK to take a break and read for pleasure. When I’m home I can stay relatively on top of single issues, I use them as treats in between tasks; 10-minute diversions throughout a long day. And that works well enough, but at some point I lost the ability or maybe the desire, to complete all of the larger collections that just keep piling up around the house.
This is something I’ve noticed for a while. Novelty is a huge deal. People, and I suspect comic’s fans to an even greater extent, really like the new and the shiny. Invariably, I want to read the comics’ I’ve just bought rather than the one I already haven’t read for the past week, or month, or year. It makes sense, I was excited to buy the new book, so that is the book that has my greatest attention. If I remember my programming days correctly this is call FIFO, or “first in, first out,” as opposed to FILO (first in last out). So the book I’ve just purchased goes to the top of my metaphorical stack, and is therefore the first one I pick up when I want something to read.
Which I think has helped me realize the root of the issue. I didn’t say “problem” because even for a comic site this doesn’t even qualify as a “first-world problem.” Most of the books I have that I’ve yet to read are books I bought in bulk. A big sale happened, I was at a convention, something like that where multiple books are being sold at a huge discount so stocking up on things you’re only sort of interested in is easy. I have found some real gems this way, and relatively few turds. So I may wind up with a dozen books but only really wanted three of them. I read those three and the remaining nine wind up in the stack. Let this process repeat a few times and suddenly you have 30 some books that are unopened since the day they became yours.
At a certain point, depending on your financial situation and how much space you have available on your bookshelves, nightstand, coffee table, etc. the purchase of new books becomes a guilty luxury. You really want a copy of Wednesday Comics, just to name a random example of a book I want but have yet to buy, but you know you really ought to read your other books first. Sure, it would take you a few hours to tear through the Fear Agent Library, but you already have the trades and that Alec: The Years Have Pants collection won’t stop silently judging you. Now you’re in a situation where reading books you already own becomes a chore, and buying new books you actually want is a guilt-trip. This is not the optimal situation to find one’s self in.
This is basically was has happened to me so I’ve drifted. Not away from my weekly dose, but away from the more literate and heady tomes that line my shelves. I have a similar problem with prose books but the guilt isn’t there. I think because with a prose book I can just toss it in a bag and go. It may get dinged up a bit but I don’t mind because it’s not an art piece, so I can have it with me, get through a few pages here and there, and assuage some of that guilt. Plus prose books are supposed to take a while to read, so there’s less internal pressure to stay on top of it.
The final factor in my drift I think comes from time management. I’m a reasonably busy guy, trying hard to get a lot done every day, and as the evening winds down and my girlfriend wants to watch an episode of West Wing I’m far more inclined to say yes than I am to say, “No, I really need to catch up on all the those Top Shelf comics I book during the $3 sale two years ago.” I may flip through a few pages on the throne or before passing out in bed, but neither of those present a substantial amount of time or progress through my stack. I rarely have time during a given week to plop down on the couch to read for a long-ish period of time. And what I’m realizing is that I no longer make time. If I arranged my schedule a bit differently I could probably set aside some time, but I don’t. I can’t tell if I’m not interested right now, or if I’ve lost interest altogether. I’m hoping it’s a combo of winter malaise, and anticipation of a New Year’s lust for life, but I just don’t know.
Which leads me to my final question: Has anyone else experienced this? Where your unread stack becomes a Malthusian catastrophe and while your enjoyment of the weekly deluge remains constant your ability to handle the hefty has waned? How do I fix this? Is it even fixable? These therapy sessions columns are what I come to you every week for, and you rarely disappoint, so lay it out for me in the comments.
Ryan Haupt caught his girlfriend using an unread trade as a coaster for a drink with a lot of condensation. Hear him drink things requiring coasters on the podcast Science… sort of.