How many books is too many?

TassieLibraryphotoCan you ever read too many books? Author and Poet Michael Bourne raised the question this week writing in The Millions when he revealed he had read 56 books in 2012, slightly down from the average of 60 books per year he had set himself when he entered a new millenium. To achieve his target he had to read five books a month or just over one book per week. 
“For years now, reading has been something like training for a marathon,” he writes.  “I keep mental tallies of how many pages I’ve read per night, and how many more pages I need to read in the next few days to keep to my average. In 2011, after years of hovering in the mid-50s, when my annual average hit precisely 60 — that is, 720 books read over 12 years — I did a private victory lap.”
Bourne keeps track of  his reading habits by listing every book he has read dating back over the past 12 years so he can quickly tell how he is tracking, month by month,  to ensure that he fulfills his target. Unfortunately the result wasn’t just  a considerable amount of  great reading but also a compulsion to stick to his timetable and achieve his quota and that took over from pure reading pleasure as motivation.  No More. Whilst still keeping the list, for curiosity’s sake if noting else, Bourne has resolved that “if I see a nice, fat doorstop of a novel I want to read, I won’t stop to check whether I’m far enough ahead for the year to give up the two or three weeks it’ll take to read it. I’ll just read the damn thing.”
I have no idea how many books I read last year. But I did become very conscious when reading  books which were seriously hard work and not very enjoyable (Will Self’s Umbrella springs to mind) of  the little voice in my brain repeating “so many books, so little time” and moved on. Unless it was a Book Club choice where not finishing isn’t an option.  So far, January has been kind and I am well ahead of Mr Bourne’s target. But then again I have been on holiday.
Coincidentally, a friend recently sent me the list of books he had read during 2012 (see below). The total is 40 so clearly he has been a slacker. But it is always interesting to look at the kind of books he’s enjoyed and it made me realise how focused I can get on the modern novel. So, my New Year’s resolutions (and we all know what they are worth) is to include more non-fiction and collections of short stories in my reading diet. And whilst I won’t be driven by quantity, I will keep a list. Just to make sure that I am on track.  
Silas Marner – George Elliot
The Drovers – Evan McHugh
Adventures in Correspondentland – Nick Bryant
The Churchills – Celia & John Lee
Fahrenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury
Tree of Rivers – John Hemming
Parky’s People – Michael Parkinson
The Trial – Franz Kafka
The Sunset Limited – Cormack McCarthy
The Inimitable Jeeves – PG Wodehouse
The Lord of the Flies – William Golding
Love in the Time of Cholera – G Garcia Marques
The Age of Innocence – Edith Wharton
Os Pastores da Noite – Jorge Amada (Brazilian novel in Portuguese)
The Hypnotist – Lars Kepler
Listen to This – Alex Ross
Catch 22 – Joseph Heller
The Garden of Evening Mists – Tan Twan Eng
Revelation – St John the Divine 
The Hare with the Amber Eyes – Edward DeWaal
The Yellow Birds – Kevin Powers
Salome – Oscar Wilde
Bring up the Bodies – Hilary Mantel
Phyllida – Andre Brink
Lost Voices – Christopher Koch
All the Pretty Horses – Cormack McCarthy
Where the Outback Drovers Ride – Bruce Simpson
Alice Springs – Eleanor Hogan
The Tender Hour of Twilight – Richad Seaver
Murphy – Samuel Beckett
Tao Te Ching – Lao Tsu
Desert Channels – Various
The Shield of Achilles – Philip Bobitt
A Wild History – Darrell Lewis
Francis Birtles – Warren Brown
Around the Sheds – Andrew Chapman
The Laodicean – Thomas Hardy
Washington Square – Henry James
Charles Dickens – Claire Tomalin
Murder in the Cathedral – TS Eliot

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