I was listening to a podcast at work, as I often do to occupy my mind while my fingers are busy with mindless tasks, and a line caught me ‘you can only read so many books in your life.’ The speaker then went on to recommend a documentary on Netflix. So instead of reading, you should spend two hours watching a movie instead?
I realize I’m somewhat – ok, I’m a lot – Odd in that I can usually read a novel in 2-3 hours if I’m curled up uninterrupted and enjoying the read. I’m slower, these days, in that I rarely have time to read at all, and never uninterrupted. Also, that enjoyment thing affects reading speed. If it’s not a fun, immersive reading experience, and I’m struggling to stay in the book, it will take me a lot longer. And that fun experience has nothing to do with it being a light-and-fluffy read. I can get sucked into non-fiction if it’s well done. I can have a horrible time with fiction that is poorly constructed or more self-aware of it’s message than the story. I’ve been reading two books in turn this last week – one is short vignettes of a Park Ranger’s life, another is a mystery. I’ve been enjoying both, and that I’ve been making slow progress is no reflection on either.
But with every passing day, I know that I will never read all the books I’d like to. As I slowly start to unpack and shelve books in the new house, and try to estimate how many shelf-feet of bookshelves I need to buy or make to hold all of them, I look at titles and think ‘when will I read this? Will I read this?’ and I know that in some cases, I won’t. I mean to, but… I have a lot of books. I have books I read years ago, and somehow wound up with another copy, or have been carrying it around since then. Some few of my books are travelers – they have accompanied me half-way ’round the world from a long-ago trip to Hay-on-Wye, or they were gifted to me by relatives in Alaska, Oregon, and elsewhere. Some of my books have sentimental value, like the boxes of books my grandmother recently gave me, each with a little note explaining which of my relatives had owned and used it, including some school books used by ancestral children-grown-and-lived-but-now-dead.
How many books can I read in my life? All of them! is a vainglorious cry, even if I am not half-way through my projected lifespan. Realistically, there will be books I want to read, books I need to read, and books I read because they happen to be there at the right time and place. After all, I can only read so many books in my life. I need to get cracking, because time’s awastin’ and I’ve got a lot to get into my head. I don’t have time for staring at screens!