Thursday, February 04, 2010


photo credit: Book Rowsby Jasoon

Thirty million book titles have been printed. Clearly the idea of being well read does not mean reading a substantial portion of those titles. At the rate of one book per week, a person with an 80 year "reading life" would read approximately 4,000 books. Even at one book per day, 80 years is only enough to read about .1% of those thirty million titles. Assuming each book is about an inch thick, 4,000 books would require more than 300 feet of shelf space. A modest size shopping mall bookstore has about 20,000 titles on hand. The book superstores have about five times that many.

Now that online bookstores exist, millions of titles may be available to anyone with an internet connection.

I'm not sure that the term "well read" has any useful purpose now, even if it did at one time.

Most of the books I have read have been for entertainment. A small number like my college calculus text were strictly for learning purposes. Some subset of the books I read for entertainment are also informative, even edifying at times.
There is only a small number of titles that I have read more than once. The bible tops the list with more than 20 readings. The Lord of the Rings trilogy is number two with about 12 readings. After that I can remember perhaps dozens of books that I have read twice, but certainly less than 100 (uh, not counting certain kid's books that I read over and over again to demanding toddlers).

At most I average one book per week. So if I live to be eighty (and keep reading!) I have time to finish another 1000 titles. I was shocked when I first did that calculation. A thousand books feels very limiting to me. I suddenly regretted all the poor quality titles I have read in the past 50 plus years. I also regret that my choice of books has been so incredibly haphazard. I don't know what reading plan I might have followed, but I do know that I haven't followed any sort of plan at all.

Of course, I have read a lot more than just books. I think of stacks and stacks of newspapers, magazines, brochures, junk mail, e-mails (well virtual stacks), and more. I have definitely benefited from reading. No question. What I wonder is, could I have benefited more by reading less or more selectively.

During most of my life I feared that I read too little rather than too much. Now I think more in terms of having read valuable things versus useless ones. But how shall I value any given bit of reading? I really don't know.

I am having one of those days where I question the value of just about everything I have done. I'm glad that loving my family and having a few friends has been part of the equation. I have also prayed a bit and served a few folks. However, a great deal of what I do seems utterly purposeless.

I pray that I will be more able to do work that pleases God and spend less time worrying about it. Colossians 3:23
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