If you want to feel stressed out as a reader, then be sure to read the article Life’s Too Short: How to Read the Right Books by Cody Adams. The article is actually doing two things, it first depresses the reader with numbers; numbers of books you are likely to read in a lifetime and just how tiny that number is compared with all the books currently in existence, a number that grows every year.
If you read a book a week, or 52 books a year, with currently about 22 million books in existence and the Library of Congress cataloging an additional 20,000 new ones every day, you might be able to finish .00000236% of books in existence before you die.
I don’t know what is more depressing though, the number of books I will be able to read or the fact that the average American reads only 20.4 books a year with the median at only 6.5.
But after Adams has the avid reader whipped into a frenzy of “OMG! I’m never going to get to the bottom of my TBR pile!” He then grabs hold and wraps you up in a straightjacket by noting that given the numbers, “every single book you read becomes an important choice.” So no pressure.
He then offers a short video and list from Jeffrey Brenzel, philosopher and Dean of Undergraduate Admissions at Yale that provides selection criteria for what makes a book a classic, classics, presumably being the books that “count.” I don’t have an issue with Brenzel’s criteria, they are pretty broad and easy to agree with. What I take issue with is Adams’ position that every book has to count and the ones that count are “classics.” It doesn’t take into account all the different reasons people read. I mean, I began reading Elizabeth von Arnim’s Solitary Summer yesterday. Is it a classic? No. What it is is funny and warm and light-hearted and every time I read it I find myself grinning uncontrollably. I’d hardly call this book a waste of time.
What Adams’ numbers should help us realize is not that we need to make every book count, but that we shouldn’t waste our time reading books we aren’t enjoying. No need to trudge on to the end and regret the time lost on a bad book. Nor should we waste time worrying about not being able to read everything. If there is a book you really want to read then you’ll read it. It does us no good to worry about what we won’t be able to read because of what we have chosen to read. Enjoy what you do read and don’t worry about the rest. Life is too short to waste time worrying about an unread book.