The Midnight Library

Every time I get done with a major item on my list, my entire routine goes for a toss. Take my recently completed GRE for example. I hadn’t been studying for it too hard, but ever since I’ve gotten done with it, I have been feeling listless. I don’t have a routine anymore – no list of youtube videos on GRE preparation to get me through my day. I hated preparing for it, but now that I am done with it, I kind of miss it. I wish I had studied a bit harder. Given the chance to do it again, I know I would act in exactly the same way I did the first time round. That still doesn’t stop me from harbouring teeny-tiny regrets in my chest. Not just about the GRE though, about almost everything in my life.

But at least, until now that is, I don’t have any major regrets in life. I wonder what would count as a major regret in life. I’ve started thinking along these lines after I read ‘The Midnight Library‘. It is a book about a library the protagonist visits after she tries to kill herself as she hangs in an in-between state of limbo. The library is full of never ending shelves, all stocked to the brim with innumerable books. Every book contains one of the infinite lives the protagonist could have had if she had taken different decisions. It isn’t just about the bigger decisions, but about every day decisions. In any day, you will have a number of small decisions and every time you decide to act in one way instead of another, you will change the direction of your life. It is kind of like what that motivational speaker said – you are one decision away from the kind of life you want.

But the book wasn’t about building a dream life alone. It was a little bit about that, but not entirely. The book talks about how all of our other lives are happening simultaneously. I think they tried to incorporate concepts from quantum physics and talk about stuff like the multiverse – but the author doesn’t spend too much time on it. The main idea, from what I could tell, was that you harbour all these regrets in your heart, when in fact, regardless of the outcome you would probably have turned out to be the same kind of person. Like, I could go through life thinking it turned out to be so trashy because I went to law school instead of medical school, and then live my entire life in misery under the weight of this one mega incorrect decision (or so I think), when the reality is that I would probably have been unsatisfied in a life where I went to medical school too. Your outcomes may differ, but a desired outcome may not necessarily make you as happy as you think it will. The appeal of each option then, is that it remains untested.

I liked this way of looking at things. I didn’t enjoy the book too much on the whole. I thought it felt a little forced in parts. But I liked the idea that you shouldn’t spend too much time thinking about all the different regrets you have or how differently you could have lived life if one random thing had gone a certain way…in the end it might all amount to the same thing. A little fatalistic, but just the kind of vibe I was looking for this week.

September Reading

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So, as you know (or maybe not, so here it is) I’m on a mission to build up my personal library. I started in October of 2020. I’ve accumulated 59 books as of today. Till now, I’ve only bought books after carefully planning out what I am going to buy, researching the authors and checking online reviews. I put in a lot of effort into deciding what books I want to buy only when I buy physical copies. On Kindle, I usually read whatever I want. This may sound off-beat, but I have an idea of which books are ‘good enough’ for me to invest in owning physical copies of, and for everything else, I just buy the e-book version.

I’m sure all of you have your own reading styles too. What books you like, how you like to read them, your own ideas about the kind of libraries you want to build, if at all. I like listening to other people’s ideas on this too. A while back, I was listening to an interview by Naval Ravikant. For those of you who don’t know, he’s a pretty impressive start-up investor. He started the company ‘Angel List’ and has spearheaded many successful ventures since then. He’s a total bibliophile too. In the interview, he talks about his philosophy of book collecting and reading. Apparently, he doesn’t read a book in a single sitting. He treats all books like a collection of thoughts or articles (which is technically correct I guess) and picks and reads specific chapters or things he likes from within the book whenever he feels like it. And he reads multiple books at the same time. I do this too. I can never read a single book and then move on to the next. At any given point of time, I will be making my way through at least three to four books. Also, whenever he likes a book, he doesn’t mind buying up multiple copies of the book so that he always has access to it whenever he travels. He’s a big believer in re-reading the same book multiple times if it appeals to him. He talks about other, equally impressive things too in his interview. If you’re interested here is his almanack on how to live life – wealth creation, living to your fullest potential and the lot.

Fascinating isn’t it? To see how differently people treat the same activity. What I liked about his interview was the genuine affection he had for books. I didn’t agree with all of it though – for example, I could never bring myself to buy multiple copies of the same book. I couldn’t bring myself to re-read the same books again either, not when there are so many wonderful books still out there. Have you seen the movie ‘About Time‘? If you haven’t, then I recommend you go watch it. If you have, then I want you to try and remember the protagonist’s father. His love of books, and the way he talks about them, is exactly what I’m like.

I’m also a frequent scroller on a lot of literary websites. My favourite is LitHub. Even when I can’t find a decent recommendation, I never feel like I waste time on this site. But recently, I have had a slight change in my philosophy. I will probably change my mind a lot of times, but for now I have decided on a couple of things.

Don’t plan everything

I want to stop researching every single title I buy. Most of the titles I buy are so well thought out, I already have a fairly good idea of what the book is going to be about. As a kid, whenever I visited my grandparents’ house, a lot of the books were so old they had to be re-wrapped and rebound in plain paper. Many of the times, the person doing this (my grandmother I suspect) forgot to put the titles on the new cover. Or, even if it did have a title, that was all you got. Picking up any book in their house was a gamble. Sometimes it paid off. But just the idea of picking up books solely on the basis of a title – without worrying about the plot, the reviews or the ratings, is appealing to me now.

Buy second-hand

This brings me to the cost. A solid reason for why I research so much before buying physical copies is because they are significantly pricier than their Kindle counter parts. If I had unlimited funds, then yes, sure, I would buy them all the time. But I don’t. So, if I want to start buying books without looking into them too much, I need to find ways to cut my cost. Which means, inevitably, that I won’t be able to buy too many first-hand books. I like this idea a lot for other reasons too. I love picking up old, used books, and reading messages people had put into them when they bought them for the first time. Old books remind of me of old dogs. I love them as much, if not more than new puppies. Lastly, I’m sure buying second hand is better for the environment too.

Making a registry

The idea behind this collection, as some of you know, is to share it with people or to donate it some day. I want to start being a little more organised with the books I have. I’m good at buying books, but I also want to document them properly. I want to start keeping a record of the books I have, the date I bought them on and also (maybe) try and make summaries of the books.

I bought two books this past September – the Midnight Library and the Book of Queer Prophets. So, my cataloguing starts now.