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?
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.
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.