So I read this blog post elsewhere, and it made me think. I suggest you go read it first. If you don’t want to know what I think, you don’t have to come back. It’s a fine article in itself.
70 books a year is not a bad goal at all, and means that I should read about 6 books a month. Some people would say it’s an ambitious number, but it’s do-able, provided you do not select 900-page tomes all the time. But to quantify something like a to-read list is sobering, in a way. It draws needless attention to your mortality, and snubs all your claims of being “well-read”. I mean, seriously, at this rate, you are going to do a mere 1400 books in 20 years. It shows you how stupid your “best-of” lists are.
The other thing that a number like this fails to take into account is rereads. One of my long-term goals was to read my favorite books all over again. I am rereading The Count of Monte Cristo at the moment. I was planning to begin reading Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn and Little Women after I finish this, but the heart yearns for more Dumas. Others on the shortlist: His Dark Materials. Lee Siegel’s Love in a Dead Language. From Balham to Bollywood. Let’s not even talk about comics and manga – there are too many on the reread pile at the moment. Do rereads count in the number put forth in the post? Needless information: the version of the Dumas classic that I am reading shows 1793 pages on the iPad. I am on page 499 at the moment, having spent about 2 days on it.
It’s somewhat coincidental that I came across this relevant quote in Monte Cristo. In the section where Abbe Faria meets Edmond Dantes for the first time and dazzles him with his wisdom, he also has this to say about reading and knowledge:
In Rome, I had nearly five thousand volumes in my library. By reading and re-reading them, I discovered that one hundred and fifty books, carefully chosen, give you, if not a complete summary of human knowledge, at least everything that is useful for a man to know. I devoted three years of my life to reading and rereading those one hundred and fifty volumes. I could recite you the whole of Thucyides, Xenophon, Plutarch, Livy, Tacitus, Strada, Jornades, Dante, Montaigne, Shakespeare, Spinoza, Machiavelli, and Bossuet. Observe, I merely quote the most important names and writers.
This makes me shudder a little, to think that 150 books are all that matter. That can’t be right. Right?
I am focusing on Step Five right now. Random Web surfing wasted a lot of read-time. You know it, I know it, everyone knows it.
I totally disagree with Step Three. I need to read multiple books at the same time, the more different the better. Often, I find myself switching from one book to the other in a single sitting, and it makes me appreciate both the books better, gives my mind more time to digest whatever I’ve read and be a little more excited about reading. It’s a kind of Attention Deficit Disorder thingie, but it always works for me.