How many books will you read this year?

Posted on January 22, 2013


Reading, vintage

I’ve just lifted my head from the latest page of the current book I’m reading, Spillover. Unless you want to know that a whole host of lethal viruses that used to live happily in animals are now packing up and moving into humans, don’t read this book. On the other hand, if microscopic mayhem gets you going, this book is amazing. But this post isn’t about Spillover. Nor is it about the permanent pile of ever-changing books next to my bed that threaten to topple over and crush me every time I reach over to turn out the light. This is about my thoughts precipitated by an article in the Washington Post way back on December 30, entitled “How many books did you read this year?”

The article starts with the following: “The average American reads four books a year, and the average American finds this more than sufficient.” I don’t know if that is entirely true, because other sources say the average is 16 books for those who do read, making nine books on average. This means that 25% of people don’t read. Twenty-five percent.

I see these non-readers. I watch them seated in airport terminals, at gates, then on airplanes. They fly coast to coast or continent to continent without reading. I watch them sitting in doctor’s offices, staring at their shoes or at the butt of the medical sales rep, while waiting for someone to call their name. I watch them on the Metro, staring at other passengers. I watch them in all the places where I am reading. They are bookless, staring at nothing. And I wonder why staring at nothing is better than reading a book.

My life has been too defined by books to imagine it any other way. If all books were forbidden to me (and the thought is worse than an all-out viral attack), I would read labels on mayonnaise jars or furniture assembly instructions. I would create life and death scenarios, heroes and heroines, out of ingredients and hardware. I don’t know how else to live.

From the Little Golden Books of my early childhood (I still swoon when I sniff the shiny gold paper that runs up the spine) through the entire series of Nancy Drew adventures and to the beginning of my discovery of adult books in junior high school, books have been the pathway along which I have walked. I’ve always said that as long as I have a book, I can be OK in almost any circumstances. I’ll amend that: I need a book and allergy meds.

All this doesn’t mean that all books are worth reading. Some aren’t worth the effort it takes for me to turn the pages or click the Kindle from page to page. Some aren’t actually books at all (Fifty Shades of Grey is a cheap vibrator disguised as a book). I used to finish any book I started. The older I get, the less inclined I am to waste my time on a book that I don’t look forward to getting back to at the end of the day. Last year, I started a 950 page book, and, at around page 450, wished all the characters the best of luck, and stopped reading.

So with that in mind, I invite you to tell me the most amazing and incredible books you’ve read lately. Next to holding people hostage and telling them about all the amazing books I’ve ever read, I love to hear what others have read or are reading now.

Go ahead. Make my pile topple over.