I have been blithely buying them all my life without ever giving a thought as to whether I will live long enough to read them. But will I?
I am not in any way a collector of books, but I am an accumulator of them. Counting shelves and estimating an average number per shelf, I figure that my bookcases hold about 4,250 books. In addition, I own over 100 books on my Kindle, and there are at least a couple of hundred in boxes in the basement. Let’s call it 5,000 books (that number again) in total.
How many of my books have I already read? That’s a delicate subject. I hold that by simply owning a book I deserve about 90 percent of the credit I would get if I also read it, but not everyone looks at things that way. I am a little shocked to discover that on any given shelf, I seem to have read, according to the conventional standard, only about one-third of the books.
That leaves around 3,300 unread books. If I read one book a week … but you and I know that I don’t read one book a week, I read a couple a month, grazing in a few others. If I read two books a month, it would take me 137 years to read those unread books. So there we have it: absent the discovery that those long-lived, underfed mice thrive equally well on a diet of vodka and peanut M&Ms, I am not going to live for 137 more years, and therefore I do not have enough time left to read the books I own. Death will intervene (thank God) well before I get around to the later volumes of “A Dance to the Music of Time.”
We can look at this another, equally pessimistic way. If I die in 30 years, when I will be 85, and if I read two books a month, then I have 720 books left to read in my entire life. That number seems so … numerical. So low. Far too few slots remain in my life for anywhere near the number of books I want to read. Now what am I supposed to do when I go into a bookstore?
I'm twenty years younger than Collins, but I've apparently already lived more (or less, depending on how you look at it) since I've now read all 12 novels of A Dance to the Music of Time through at least three times.
If you compulsively surround yourself with books, however, it's impossible not to soon start thinking in these terms. I read 20-30 books a year. If I have about 50 years (if I'm lucky) left to me, that's 1000 to 1500 books -- and some of those will doubtless be re-reads or books not yet written. I don't have as many books as Collins, but there are doubtless some books that I already own, and mean to read, that I never will.
It's almost lunch time. I feel like I should go read something.