According to the Internet, the average person in the UK reads ten books a year. This figure is inflated by those of us that read a lot, so the figure is more like four or five books a year, with just under half of all UK adults not reading books at all.
I read a lot. More than watching TV, which I love, I read. At times reading has been a guilty pleasure, snuck into snatches of time when I could escape the kids. Reading saved me from a difficult childhood, escaping into faraway lands when my own world became too much to bear. Now reading is work. A writer can’t write without reading.
Now I can read all day, no distractions on my time other than the withering look of the dog who is not-so-patiently waiting for a walk.
I’ve always read to the end of a book. Even when it is rubbish. Even when, with every turn of the page, I wait for that moment when the book will take off and I will be transported, only to be disappointed at the end. I think it’s a bit of that puritanical work ethic, that a job started must always be finished even if the job in hand is doing nothing for me.
My gift to myself for my 50th Birthday (and I gave myself many gifts) was to stop forcing myself to finish books I didn’t like.
I also worked out that using the average life expectancy for women in the UK – 82 – times the average number of books I read in a year – 30ish – I have just over a thousand books left to read.
Just over a thousand!!!! WTF
I read a couple of novels a month plus listen to at least one talking book and maybe something non-fiction. How the bloody hell do I work with a deadline of a thousand books left.
I’ve nearly a thousand books in my house, well in my living room, then there’s more on the stairs, and the hall, and the bedroom.
And then there’s the library books. I never have less than ten on my ticket. Ok, that’s not true, I always have way over twenty, but I was aware I was sounding a little crazy and have kinda lost my point.
Yes, my point was that for my 50th birthday I gave myself permission to stop reading a book if it didn’t have me entranced by page 50. Sometimes if it’s a slow burn I will give it 100, but I am counting the pages all the way.
How can I live with the grief of knowing all the great books I’m never going to read? All the classics that I should have read, how do I choose which one, knowing it kicks something else off my timeline? Should I read all of Dickens? I’ve tried. What about the great Russian writers? I’ve never read Dostoevsky, though I loved Tolstoy. What about great writers from history – I’ve never read Chaucer or Shakespeare? Should I read the Illiad?
(As a side note I should add that I really only read novels written by women so that would pretty much exclude everyone listed above, but you get my point.)
And what about all the brilliant books I’ve already read that I might want to read again?
You might think this knowledge would concentrate my mind. You might think I should ask World of Books to close my account until I’ve read everything I already own, or that the library should be limiting my choices but let’s not go mad.
And what if my reading slows down with age? What if I stop being able to read? My own mortality doesn’t scare me but leaving books behind unread breaks me.
So, enough chit chat, I’m sure you have things to do?
I’m going to finish my book.