TOO MANY BOOKS?

Maybe we can “blame” COVID-19 and my shiny new Amazon Prime membership but I’ve started buying books again in greater numbers than the past few years or so, though not nearly to the degree of my $150-$200 in books a week (you read that right) around the turn of the century. Before the COVID quarantine I had started reading more, challenging myself, via GoodReads, to read fifty-two books a year. I’m currently running rather far behind on this year’s 52-book goal, something I also inexplicably blame on COVID. Weird that the less I read the more I buy? Is that true?

I’m going to pretend that’s not true because denial is a perfectly acceptable way to get through life.

Anyway, something prompted me to count up all of the unread books in my possession, something I haven’t done in a decade or so. I was able to count 1074 unread books, including 179 of my coveted ACE Doubles that I haven’t read yet, but then there’s the SF/Fantasy Paperback Grab-bag box in my closet that contains an uncountable number of mass market paperbacks that I’m conservatively estimating at two hundred, which leaves me with 1274 unread books currently in my possession.

And yes, I absolutely do intend to read every last one of them—I don’t buy books for decorative purposes. If I bought it (or got it for free in a few cases) it’s because it somehow struck my fancy, came highly recommended, etc. I do intend to read them all.

But then even if I can stick to my goal of reading fifty-two books every year that means I have exactly twenty-four years, six months worth of books stockpiled. That’s assuming I buy no more books during that time.

And oh, you know I’m going to buy more books.

I’ll be turning fifty-six in three weeks, so that means I have all the books I need to get me to the age of eighty.

I think reading fifty-two books a year is pretty good. I see a few people on GoodReads who at least say they read a hundred or more books in a year—and that’s possible if a lot of them are shorter books, or they have huge commutes and fly through audio books like I used to when I used to drive to Lake Geneva, Wisconsin every day (108 miles round trip). I suppose I could expand my goal next year to, say, one and half times the current goal, or 78 books? Doubling it doesn’t seem possible for me—I do have a fairly demanding job that, actually, means I read even more books, and I have a family and other interests. But could I read 104 books a year? That’s two a week. I bet I couldn’t hit that, though it would mean my supply of books runs out in only a little less than twelve years…

Whatever this might mean to you, the fact is that my 1274-book home library (not counting books I have read but have kept) comes to about 1/258th of the number of books published in the U.S. alone in one year (328,259 in 2010), and that was just one year, ten years ago. That means 3,282,590 books have been published in America since last time I counted how many books I own but haven’t read yet. And I’m not sure that number accounts at all for independent books, which continue to grow. According to Google, there are 129,864,880 books all together, so I only own about 1/101,000th of the books.

That’s a lot of books, 130 million…

Is that too many books?

In her brilliant book Reading Contagion, which I bought and read this year, Annika Mann shows that the idea of a “flooded marketplace” of books is essentially as old as commercial publishing itself:

(Alexander) Pope ’s own artistic production takes place over the period of print’s rapid acceleration, when, after the 1695 lapse of the Licensing Act (by which the Stationers’ Company restricted the book trade to particular printers), the number of printers in London and outside grew exponentially. This lapse led to a swift change in the conditions for authorship itself, which moved from a patronage system to a modern commercial arrangement, in part through the form of the subscription. These rapid and visible changes produced an era of vastly increased textual production and circulation, as well as a wide-ranging debate about that increase, as writers regularly and perhaps obsessively commented on textual overproduction.

Something tells me that there were far fewer books published in England in 1695 than anywhere near the 184,000 new and revised titles published in the UK in 2011.

So even though I own only a minute fraction of the books I am perfectly willing to concede that I might not live to read all the books I currently own, much less in addition to the many books I will absolutely buy in the next quarter century. If I had the money to buy every one of those 300,000+ books published in America every year, you bet your ass I would… though honestly I’d still pass on the political stuff.

But hey, buy books!

Read books!

Collect books!

Fill your life with books!

 

 

—Philip Athans

 

 

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About Philip Athans

Philip Athans is the New York Times best-selling author of Annihilation and a dozen other books including The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction, and Writing Monsters. His blog, Fantasy Author’s Handbook, (https://fantasyhandbook.wordpress.com/) is updated every Tuesday, and you can follow him on Twitter @PhilAthans.
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3 Responses to TOO MANY BOOKS?

  1. Now I have to go count my books…and I’m older than you. Ugh!

  2. Dawn Ross says:

    I’ve done less reading since Covid19 as well. My 5-year-old is home all day, so there’s not much time to read then. And by the time I get him to bed, I’m too tired to read. I don’t have as many unread books as you, but I have not been able to keep up with the Goodreads reading goal.

  3. Len Stage says:

    I love to write science fiction story but I have never write a story about robots, and I am realize that writing sci-fi books about robots is fun and challenging.

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