Could you read 100 novels in 100 days?” asks the BBC. Apparently, that is the rate at which the Man Booker Prize judges must read in order to be able to give their verdict.
What with me not being a publisher or a journalist, I know I could never match their Pheidippidian pace. I think a conscientious Robert, managing his time healthily and socially, could only manage about a novel a month. I think this is realistic, since there will be times when I will read more (if I become a commuter, or maybe go to a beach for a week), and times when I will read less (child-rearing, or a World Cup, perhaps). If I further assume that I will probably give up on all that “reading” malarkey when I reach four score of years, then that computes as follows:
52 years x 12 books = 624 books
I think that is an over-estimate, but it doesn’t look like much to me. I’m sure I can fit in the great clichés from the canon of Western literature, but as a fully paid up member of the multiculturalist cognoscenti, I worry that it leaves precious little space for anything less mainstream. Slots are at a premium – can I risk falling in love with an author, and the compulsion to read their novels more than once? Can I afford to take a risk on something bad? It occurs to me I’ll need plenty of those loathesome “Top 50” lists if I am going to succeed.
And how many of those books am I effectively ignoring by reading blogs?
Meanwhile, the NaNoWriMo project encourages you to write your own novel in 30 days. Who is with me? Dave?


I am reminded of this comment from Mark, on a post last year:

I think that part of the pleasure of buying magazines is that one is not simply buying a publication; in buying a magazine you are promising yourself a period of time, normally on your own in which you can escape whatever else it is that you should be doing. Is it just me, or is at least part of the pleasure the act of buying a paper or magazine, and walking home, or to a cafe, with it burning in your bag or pocket, knowing that you have bought yourself a little slice of leisure time? And I think that perhaps it is this reason which explains why we don’t mind the fact that we often don’t read them – the intention was good. And in the same way that the initial intention was honorable, so to is that most unrealistic, yet fiercely guarded notion that yes, one day, we will go back and fill in the gaps by picking up those old publications. Nick Hornby’s recent collection of ‘Believer Magazine’ articles, published under the title of ‘The Polysyllabic Spree’ expresses this same sentiment – we all have bookshelves populated with book bought in the best of faith, unread, and unlikely to ever be read. But they stay there, a collection of promises to the self, that one day, there will be nothing more pressing to do than go back and make amends.

Update II

Via Andrew Sullivan, the story of a speed reader who can get through 462 books a year. I am reminded of a speed reading story by Tibor Fischer in his amusing collection Don’t Read This Book If You’re Stupid (called I Like Being Killed in America because, apparently, they are stupid, or at least easily offended). The character breaks into book stores and libraries and can read two books at once, one in each hand. His mission is to read everything, temporarily threatened when he sees a young lady in one library, who is also reading two books at once. He avoids her.

12 Replies to “624”

  1. I’m very surprised that “Pheidippidian Commuter” is a Googlewhack. I should have thought there would be hundreds of stories of commuters keeling over and dying after a 26 mile journey on an Arriva service.

  2. Someone I know has only read two novels in their entire life – so don’t worry too much Rob – he was happy on many novels even if he was less imaginative than he could have been. Can anyone guess what they may have been?
    Also I am shamed to say that in my youth – well 11-13 I started reading Mills and Boon borrowed from my bed-ridden Grandmother’s bedside – do they count???????

  3. This is one of those pieces that challenges dearly held delusional beliefs. But the human brain is very resouceful or rather delusions can be very strongly held. In the face of this irrefutable logic I still think I will have time to read the major masterpieces and still fritter away time on any novel which happens to catch my fancy. Clarice is right to say you need to include all the books you have already read and certainly I know that my teens and twenties were a time when I read most prolifically. My main worry is that my eyesight will hold out as i expect to increase my book consumption when I am fully retired, may even be able to spend whole days reading. Just imagine! Of course reading all the unread hoarded Sunday supplements will take up some time. Is there anyone else out there who can’t throw away unread Sunday supplements?

  4. In reply to Kathy can I guess? Lady Chatterly’s Lover and an Agatha Christie, not sure but could be Murder on the Orent Express? Or maybe the one about Bagdad, can’t remember the exact title. Perhaps I could be accused of insider information.

  5. Thanks for reminding me of that piece. I like what Mark said about all the unread material “a collection of promises to the self that one day there will be nothing more pressing to do than go back and make amends” Exactly.

  6. As long as you don’t get a thrombosis from all that sitting around and reading, Grannie Rose! You’ll have to make sure you stay mobile as well. Oooh, speaking of which, have you heard about the new eye implants being developed that allow you to project a version of windows onto your retina?

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