Page Count

Shelf of old books

Today I was organizing my collection of book reading notes, and wondered: how many books have I read in my lifetime? I made a wild (and probably generous) guess: a few thousand.

I recently saw a clip of the old TV show Cosmos. As Carl Sagan strolled through a library, he said if we read a book a week our entire adult life, it would only be a tenth of a percent of all the books in just that library. “The trick”, he says, “is to know which books to read”.

So I wondered: how many more books can I read in my lifetime? Given my age and the average male life expectancy, if I read a book a week from today until the day I die I could probably squeeze in about a thousand.

A thousand books. It sounds like a lot, doesn’t it? Not to me. And every week, whether I read a book or not, that theoretical number decreases. In a few decades, it could be less than a hundred. Soon after that–less than a dozen. Imagine walking into a library or bookstore and thinking “I’ve only got enough time to read another dozen books or so.”

About 600,000 to one million books published every year. There’s not enough time to read even a tiny fraction of them. If I used my hypothetical limit of a thousand to read only the most esteemed books of the past, it wouldn’t be enough. I’d barely scratch the surface.

I think of this now as I look at the tall stack of ‘books to read’ sitting nearby. Which ones should I read? Where should I spend that finite allotment of book reading time? Will I only get to read a dozen more? A hundred? Or maybe one of the books in that stack be the last one I read. Who knows? What I do know is that eventually a book I pick up will be the last, and the rest will go unread.

I’d better get reading.