04/01/2015 10:58 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Too Many Books, Too Little Time

I recently posted a trailer for The Dovekeepers on Facebook and a friend who knows I review asked what I thought about the book.

I was honest. I said I hadn't read it. Not only that, I had never even heard of it, even though I admire Alice Hoffman.


There are lots of possible reasons why I missed it. I could have been on a book tour out of the country when it was published. Or, I wasn't reading book reviews at the time because I was immersed in writing one of my own books and had no interest in new books. Tunnel vision is important to get your work done.

Then there's the fact that I tend to read much more biography and memoir than fiction by contemporary authors, even historical fiction. It's a shift that's happened slowly over the years, one that other writer friends of mine have reported in their own reading lives.

Will I read Hoffman's book? Probably not, even though I've been to Masada. So why not? Because I'm working on something told in first person, and I don't want to be influenced by the story-telling in Hoffman's book. Because I'll watch the miniseries. Because it's on the long side for a novel, for me, anyway. And because I have more than one TBR pile.

But missing best sellers is nothing new for me. Even when I was reviewing for half a dozen newspapers and one magazine, some reader or fan of my reviews would always mention a book and be astonished I hadn't gotten to it. For me as a reviewer and working writer, I often felt back then that I was on a high speed train and far too many books were blurry station stops I'd left behind. That feeling's intensified now that I'm teaching at Michigan State University and devote time to my students and my classes.

There's less time than ever to read everything I'd like. Not even enough time to sample everything I'd like to. I learned to accept my limitations years ago, as well as the dubious looks from people who expect the impossible: that as an author and reviewer, it's incumbent on me to read everything current.


Lev Raphael is the author of Book Lust! (Essays for Book Lovers) and 24 other books in genres from memoir to mystery.