In any case, it's all quite irrelevant because I quickly figured out there was no way I could read more than a fraction of all the available books on Amazon anyway. Sure, I was a voracious reader when I was younger, averaging twenty or more books per month, but as I have grown older my appetite for books has gradually decreased. Much of this has to do with the scarcity of time; in the past seven or eight years, for example, I have averaged a pathetic four to five books annually. Annually! Granted, they weren’t slim volumes of short stories, but still! Four to five books? What is that? Half a book a month? Some barnyard animals probably read more than that. My inner English major fumes in frustration and cringes with shame.
Nevertheless, the pace of my reading has picked up since January of this year, but I am still only at about a book or two a month. Before going any further let me stress the following – I do not view reading as some sort of competition or game or belt-notching activity where you must read as much as humanly possible in order to amass the armory of witty banter and wit required to be a star at cocktail parties or artistic coffeehouses. I also don’t believe reading more books necessarily makes a person more intelligent. Sure, being well-read helps, but a few years around the wrong kind of books can actually cause serious brain damage. Don’t believe me? Go spend a few minutes in the company of a gender studies graduate student and you’ll instantly understand.
Amazon’s eight million books started me thinking about all the books I have read thus far and the books I could potentially read in the remainder of my life. I don’t know exactly how many books I have read, but if I look into the future and am lucky enough to live another thirty years or so, I estimate I could potentially read another 1,500 books in my lifetime (if I manage to read about fifty books a year over the next thirty years).
Yet when I pondered this number, I realized it was misleading. I have always been a quality reader rather than quantity reader; given the choice, I would rather read ten great books than a hundred mediocre ones. On top of that, I am an avid re-reader. Believing firmly in the principle that great books should not merely be read, but reread, it dawned on me that I would probably read no more than five hundred unfamiliar books in the remainder of my lifetime; the other thousand would be certainly factor in as rereads. Hence, I began to view the 1,500 number as book reads rather than books themselves.
Fifteen-hundred reads is both a little and a lot – I still have time to read and reread many great books, but the number of books I will manage to read in the time I have left is dwarfed by the number of books I will never read. This inevitably lead me to the question of what I should read.
After I had calculated the likely number of reads I had left before me, my first impulse was to punctiliously craft a list of all the books I absolutely had to read before my time was up, but I abandoned the thought as soon as it materialized. Though my blood is technically German, I have never cared much for regimented Prussian planning and meticulousness. Preplanning my reading over the next thirty years sounded about as much fun as prescheduling romantic interludes with my wife for the next three decades. The intrigue, romance, and spontaneity would vanish, and the task would eventually become a chore, which was the last thing I would ever want reading, or romance with my wife for that matter, to become.
In the end, I settled upon the following approach – I will let what William Arkle calls The Will decide what my 1,500 reads will be. Rather than impose my Will Power upon the act of reading, I will put faith in The Will to guide me toward the books I should and must read (and reread, of course). I believe it is the only possible approach to reading I can take; after all, Arkle’s description of The Will is exactly how his own A Geography of Consciousness found its way into my hands; and what a blessing that has been.
What about the 7,999,500 books on Amazon I most certainly will not have the time read in this lifetime? Well, maybe I’ll order a few tomorrow anyway – not to read, but simply to stack. With any luck, I might just reach the moon before my time draws to an end.