A Counting Exercise

My eyes popped out when I read Danielle’s post at A Work in Progress in which she said she has already read 37 books this year. This is amazing by any standards. If that is not surprising enough, Danielle referred to this post on So Many Books in which Stefanie has logged 26, perfectly on course to completing one book per week of the year. So many books, indeed!

Anyway, since I have never counted books before, I thought it might be an interesting exercise, if only to know where I stand among compulsive but unprolific readers. My guess is that I finish about a dozen books a year. Here is the list in more or less chronological order since January this year:

  1. Umberto Eco, The Name of the Rose (continued from last year)
  2. Lynne Truss, Eats, Shoots and Leaves
  3. John Steinbeck, The Winter of Our Discontent (continued from last year)
  4. Menno Schilthuizen, Frogs, Flies and Dandelions
  5. Ursula Le Guin, A Wizard of Earthsea
  6. Alexander McCall Smith, The Sunday Philosophy Club
  7. Ursula Le Guin, The Tombs of Atuan
  8. Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird
  9. John Steinbeck, The Pearl
  10. Ursula Le Guin, The Farthest Shore

There, it ends. This is a little bit higher than my estimate which should be 6 books by this time of the year. Lest I become blase, there are two simple reasons for the small increase. Firstly, two books are carried over from 2005. Secondly, I have travelled more frequently than usual this year, logging 80 to 100 hours on airplanes, trains and buses in Switzerland and China. Most of this time was spent either sleeping or reading novels or going over research papers.

Apart from my slow reading speed, another reason for finishing fewer books is that my conversion rate, i.e., ratio of the number of books finished to the number of books begun is abysmally low. I cannot seem to find the persistence required to plough through something that does not hold my interest at a given time. In the past, this has caused me to leave unfinished such books as A Confederacy of Dunces, The Catcher in the Rye (Damn you Holden!) and Tortilla Flat. Now that I have written about this, I don’t feel very good about it. I will get around to finishing them, especially the last two, but it won’t be any time soon. More work calls. More travel in the coming month.

5 thoughts on “A Counting Exercise”

  1. Just to share my experience on this:

    It’s not difficult to increase the number- starting to count is itself the first step. With a 12- hour job, I could clock upto 40 in a year till I decided to slow down last year.

    Another way is speed reading, people have expressed different opinions about it, my own was very good- from a speed of about 140 words per minute, I jumped to about 400, I am probably around 300 now, which is quite comfortable.

    One hour a day discipline has works well for me, over the months and years it piles up significantly.

    All this is, of course, peanbuts compared to greats like John Stuart Mill !

  2. Did you see some of the comments on Stefanie’s blog? There are people who read 7-10 in a month! Last year I read about one book a week, too (actually it was a bit less). I am not sure what is going on this year. Like you I tend to start a lot of books and then they sit on my nightstand. I think I am reading more this year, though, and ignoring some of my other hobbies.

  3. Bhupinder: That sounds scary. I fear that increasing my speed could kill my enjoyment of a novel. The last time I tried speed reading was while preparing for the GRE comprehensions. I have never missed it since ;).

    Danielle: I think that one of the reasons prolific readers are prolific is that reading is a designated, planned activity for most of them. However strenuous the workday, however tiring the housework, they will find time (usually the same time every day) to sit with their books. Some of my friends do this with discipline, and they are on the whole the ones who reject fewer books. Do you think your rejection rate has gone down because your reading schedule is more structured? I wonder if this structured reading activity acts as a stress reliever, just like going to the gym does for some people. My reading habits are wildly irregular, I’m sad to say. I usually take a book to bed, and might fall asleep iafter 2 pages or 80 pages or never, depending upon the material. In this, balance goes awry, and often perspective of the book and of the daily routine goes awry as well because of too little sleep caused by a very interesting book. In that sense, One Hundred Years of Solitude has actually increased my stress level because I am liking it too much for my own good ;).

  4. I do have planned reading times. Since I take public transportation to work I have that half hour or so coming and going that is designated reading time. Also lunch break at work, and between 30-45 minutes daily on the treadmill every evening. I tend to read more during the week than on weekends, too (and you would think it would be the reverse). I try and finish most books I start–and usually I do. My problem is always starting too many at once, and having a hard time deciding which to spend time reading!

  5. I read voraciously too. At the start of July I had read a lot more than 37 books. It depends on the book – sometimes they can take a lot of getting into and take weeks, others I can read at a sitting. For ex, I read the Sabriel trilogy over 4 days. Mind you I was like a zombie as I was up until 2-3 in the morning reading them and I can’t do that on a week night like I used to. But then it took me three weeks to read a medium length history book after that.

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