The Dichotomy of the Bookstore

Musings on how much there is to know in the world

There is so much to know here.

This was the thought often repeated during a recent visit to our local bookstore. My wife, our friend and I had just finished a small dinner at a cafe next to one of our favorite bookstores.

Our primary goal of visiting the bookstore after dinner was to find a new jigsaw puzzle. But invariably, as happens in bookstores, the shelves upon shelves of books called us with their silent siren song.

Wandering through the stacks, first past beautifully illustrated reference books, then to gardening guides an how-tos, all three of us could not help but marvel at all the knowledge around us. So much time and energy spent researching, collating and preparing these bound collections of facts, figures, thoughts and ideas.

I could not help but be hit by both awe and a certain sort of sadness at being so close to all this knowledge. On one hand, the choices presented in a bookstore are near endless. You can embark on a journey to become any sort of expert you want, be it gardening, birdwatching or fashion design. All within a few hundred feet of each other.

On the other hand, there is no possible way one can consume even a tenth of the knowledge contained within the average bookstore. In this way, book stores can serve as solemn reminders of all there is in the world you won’t know, or do, or experience. A bucket list that never gets fulfilled, but keeps getting added to.

How to strike a balance, then? How to prioritize what can be known and retained and what will never be? That is one of life’s great questions. For me, I’ve found my niche in birdwatching. Even within this tiny, tiny world, there is so much to know.

The goal, though, is not trying to know it all. My goal is to know more each month, each year than I did before. To try to know it all is to know failure. Steady self-improvement, at least for me, is the way to go.

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