A few months ago I read an article in The Guardian that pointed out a somber fact: I’m roughly a third of the way through all the books I’ll ever read. Considering I’m in my late twenties and am about a third of the way through my life, this really hits home the fact that I’m going to read finitely many books.
When I was a kid, I would reread books all the time. I’m not sure where or why this habit began; after all, I had access to a school library, a county library, a church library, and of course my own book collection on a regular basis. But despite all these wonderful places to obtain new books, I still found myself rereading many of the same books over and over again. Books were my friends, something I could turn to in during a time when I didn’t have too many friends. If I chose to read a new book, I might not like it. That didn’t stop me from reading, but in a way it stopped me from grabbing something completely new.
But over the years, something changed. I started making new friends who like books as much as I do, friends who read more voraciously and more variety than I ever read in my childhood. These were the friends who devoured the Sweet Valley Twins and Terry Pratchett and Brian Jacques and Tolkien and so many other authors I never read as a kid… all because of my desire to reread the same books. (Though I’m probably not missing much with the Sweet Valley Twins.) I ended my accidental book fast and found myself on Goodreads in search of more things to read, only to realize I had no idea how to discover books. Even though I love bookstore and library shelves, browsing a physical shelf overwhelms me because of the sheer number of books. Which ones are good? Which ones aren’t? Did I just skip the novel that will change my life? So I’ve started relying on online browsing and friends to curate my tastes a little more in the hopes that I can use one book as a jumping ground for something completely new. For the most part, this has worked, but I still have a long way to go.
Now, in fairness, my tastes in books have changed since childhood. I didn’t read too much science fiction and fantasy as a kid, and many of my current friends gravitated toward those genres even then. But there are still many books outside those genres that I had access to back then but just never got around to reading, instead clinging to my dog-eared paperback friends. It’s time to change that.
According to Goodreads, I’ve read 559 books as of this writing. I’ve abandoned about six more that I can remember, a surprisingly low number. This number doesn’t include all the books I’ve ever read, although I’ve tried to add books from my childhood as they return to my memory. Assuming I don’t remember titles for half the books from my childhood (a conservative estimate considering how quickly I’ve gone through some books), let’s say I’ve read 1200 books so far. This is a reasonable assumption and roughly on par for what the author of that Guardian article has read so far.
If I continue reading over a hundred books a year every year, I can read far more than 2,000 more books during the rest of my life. And I’m going to make those books count.