not that I’m counting

One of my friends refers to me as “the scribe” because I like to write stuff down. And one of the things I write down is how many books I read a year. As my tower of unread books grows taller and spawns little towers, it’s a way to prove to myself that I am reading. It’s a way to measure progress.

Every year I tally up. My number was down for 2009–42. But it did include Infinite Jest.

Not that numbers are important. In fact, at the moment, I’m trying to slow my reading, pay more attention, see how they’re doing it.

In any event, here are my numbers for recent years:

2008: 51

2007: 50

2006: 48 (+ lots of random stories)

2005: 74

2004: 50

Two questions occur to me from looking at these numbers, both involving the word cut. One, if I can only read 40-50 books a year, does the book I’m holding in my hands make the cut? Two, what else can I cut out to make more time for reading?

Do you know how many books you read a year?

22 thoughts on “not that I’m counting

  1. I read a similar number to you. Last year I read 55, and the year before that it was 48 – plus audiobooks, which I count on a separate list. I was just thinking the other day about how, even if I live to the upper limits of what I find plausible, I only have a few thousand more books in me. Inspires a person to choose carefully, for sure.


  2. Between 40-50 books per year. But that does not include short stories. I love stories and read many small press publications such as The Southern Review and Glimmer Train. And now I’ve found some jewels online to boot.

    No wonder I literally run when I clean the house and fly down the aisles at the grocery store. I cooked a pot roast in record time today so I could catch up on reading my favorite blogs. And this blog is at the top of that list. 🙂


  3. Emily, I’m so surprised. From your blog I would have guessed you read twice as many as me. But you did read some really long ones last year.

    As far as your last sentences, when you actually run the numbers–damn. Hard to believe.


  4. Darrelyn, it’s nice to be in such good company. And I don’t keep track of the stories either. There’s One Story and every year I subscribe to at least one other literary journal. Then there’s The New Yorker, and when someone mentions a story I don’t know I try to find it…

    And thank you for reading this blog! And taking the time to comment. And for your nice words and support.


  5. I’ve only been keeping track since 2007, but here are the numbers (I also list them on my blog’s sidebar):

    2007 – 47
    2008 – 74
    2009 – 50

    I think tracking the books has pluses and minuses. There have been times when I’ve grabbed a slim novel from my endless stack of books to be read partially so I can feel like I’ve gotten through more books. On the other hand, I’ve been reading some heftier books over the last year and a half or so and it doesn’t really bother me that for every Infinite Jest or 2666 there are probably four or five other books I’m not finishing. But it does drive home the reality that the number of books I buy and the number that I can realistically expect to read — and read closely — is finite. I often manage to get through a couple of weeks without buying any books, but I never seem to really get it under control.


  6. I keep a list of titles, though it’s an unnumbered list–I had to go back and count last year’s to know. I think I miss some. I’ll suddenly remember that I read a book I forgot to add to my list. And then there are my colleagues’ and clients’ manuscripts, which don’t count but take up time. And the endless reading and re-reading (aloud) of children’s books that takes up a chunk of my days. I have to say I hate the total possible in a long lifetime tally. Torture! Thanks for a thought-provoking discussion . . .


  7. I don’t keep a list, Cynthia. I have thought about doing so, but it hasn’t happened yet. I suppose I don’t feel the need. What I do is write, in pencil, a post-reading review at the front (or if necessary, the back) of the book. It often takes one full page and I date and sign it.

    This doesn’t help with the count, of course. But it’s a rather delightful way to discover some of my past reading and thoughts.


  8. Impressive tally, scribe! I don’t know how many books I read a year as I only review my favorites. I don’t count laps when I swim either.

    I usually read every night and I go through multiple books on vacations. Then there are the books I start reading and then stop since there is no point wasting time if I’m not smitten. Occasionally I return to finish. I probably finish 2-4 books a month on average, depending on length and time.


  9. Lisa, it’s funny that we both had a recent year of 74. I’m trying to remember–did you read both Infinite Jest and 2666 in the same year (2009)?

    I agree that the whole book thing never really feels as if it’s under control. I tell myself: book buying hiatus. And the next thing I know I’ve clicked on another one.


  10. Elizabeth, by all means, wipe the thought of a lifetime tally from your mind. At first I used to be bothered by all the reading I couldn’t quantify, then I realized the real reason I was counting was mostly for fun, to prove to myself I was staying in the game, to keep track of the authors I was reading, and to have a record of the books I had read for when I was trying to remember if I’d already read a certain book or not. Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment. I hope you’ll be back.


  11. Lauren, I love this idea. In fact my mother and I talked about doing something like this years ago when we picked up a book we knew we had both read but neither of us could remember what it was about.


  12. Yes, Sarah, I think some people are counters and some are not. Which is odd in a way that I am, math not being my strong suit. It’s interesting how consistent 2-4 books/a month is for the readers commenting here.

    Glad you have your power back!


  13. The only time I remember counting the books I read was on a family vacation. The family buried themselves in the sand. I buried my nose in books and read 11 in 6 days. Yikes!


  14. Pingback: who’s counting | catching days

  15. I love this. I just started counting last year. And this is weird: I just tallied my count for 2013: 68 books—which is the same count as for 2012!


  16. Happy New Year, Richard! What a great year of reading. And consistent 🙂 I knew I was way down in my reading–the more I write the less I read–but I didn’t know how far down until just now when I counted. I read exactly half as many books as you did this year–34. One of my resolutions for 2014 is to read more!


  17. Funny, I realized from this post and its responses that I should probably read fewer! 40 great books is better than 100 just for the count, at least for a reading writer. I have started the New Year with an 800-page classic, Anna Karenina, so right there I giving up at least three regular books . . . And I admit I count manuscripts and page proofs—even of my own book—because, hey, it’s reading. Though I’m not just being count-greedy: my reading log functions too as kind of a diary.


  18. Richard, I left your comment in my inbox and then it got lost under a bunch of emails. I wanted to come back and say I hope you don’t take from this post any shoulds. I think each of us knows if we’re reading too fast or not enough. Now that I’m here, I also want to say that my list functions as a kind of diary too so I wish I’d thought of recording everything–of course that would be feeding a monster! What about all the online reading we do? All the blogs! One year I counted short stories because I was reading so many! Anyway, happy reading in 2014!


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