The Big Think

November 21, 2004

Ex Libris Henry Bemis

Filed under: Disclosure — jasony @ 2:56 am

Erin and I moved to Austin on April 1, 2001. I was reading a book during the move and got to wondering how many books and pages I had read over the course of my lifetime. I’ve been a big reader since I can remember- I have a childhood memory of being four years old and sitting in the old round chair in our living room, crying in frustration because I couldn’t read Peanuts in the Sunday funnies. I also remember my dad sitting in the car with me teaching me to read the name on the bread loaf we’d just gotten at the grocery store: Kilpatrick’s Bread. Thanks, Dad.

I’ve always wished I had kept track of the books I’ve read, and so on April 1st of 2001, I decided to start a list. In the last 3 years and 7 months, I’ve read 40,359 pages in 116 books. That works out to an average of 348 pages per book.
This includes only books (no magazines -which I usually read cover to cover anyway, no book tapes, no newspapers), and only books that I’ve finished (I’ve put aside probably three books in three years- something I hate to do). I also keep the list categorized by date (28 books read per year, or one every 2 weeks), by author, and by location (personal library or public library). So far I’ve read 69 books out of my personal library and 47 from the public library. I buy new books for my personal library at a rate that slightly exceeds my yearly reading rate, so my list of owned-but-unread books grows by a few each year. At my current rate, if I stayed away from the library or bookstore, it would take me about three years to exhaust the unread tomes in my possession. A barrister bookcase is the next big project in the shop, and will start to relieve the pressure from double-stacked books currently burdening my groaning shelves.

If I extrapolate out and assume another 45 years of reading, that works out to 438,480 pages. That sounds like a lot until you realize that it’s a meager 1,260 books – about the number of titles contained in a single set of average library shelves (I counted at Barnes and Noble one night). The typical small community library has dozens of shelf stacks and tens of thousands of books. Larger libraries can have hundreds of thousands of titles. According to this page, there are currently 1.5 million books in print, and 22 million have been published in America since 1776. In addition, 120,000 new titles are published every year, or 328 every day. Just in English. So if I keep up my current rate of reading, by the age of 80 I will have read the total U.S. publishing output of… four days. About .0008% of the total number of available English books. When I check out, I will leave millions of books unread, hundreds of millions of pages unperused, and I will never get the chance to think the thoughts, experience the ideas, or be challenged by the minds that have sent their paper and ink messengers into the world.

Ode to a Great Library

This is a forest ever green,
A wood no killing frost can ever bare;
These leaves may fade, but in between
The life is there.

This is a graveyard, but instead
Of death, it’s life, to seeing eyes;
When hands unclose these tombs, the dead
In glory rise.

This is a journey; from this door
Lead many roads with many inns;
Each yields, in measure, joy before
The next begins.

This is a battleground, and grand;
The mighty strive to win the Field;
And much depends on who shall stand
And who shall yield.

This is a city that will last
Until the time when time is gone;
No bodies die until they’ve passed
Their own seed on.

This is a light, a gift of Love
Who bids us learn, that we may see,
Until there dawns the clear light of
Eternity.

Heaven to me will be a golden library card, a comfortable chair, and Time Enough at Last.

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