You Read How Many Books?

Man on top of bookshelf reading.
https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/legalcode 2012 Royalty-Free/Corbis

I try to read a lot of books. For a few years after my wife and I moved in together, I didn’t get through too many, maybe twenty or thirty a year. To some, that’s a lot. One person pointed out men, on average, don’t read any books. Women seem to be more interested, statistically speaking.

But I write. And I’ve often found it crucial that I read. Widely. I also maintain a rotation that changes from year-to-year. Last year, I would start with non-fiction, then a crime novel (as Jim Winter’s head must be fed, even if it’s also my head. I’m just this guy, yanno.) This is followed by scifi, then an indie book. The next slot is a classic, and it has its own rotation: Mark Twain, Oscar Wilde, Shakespeare, and Harold Bloom’s list of novels from How to Read.

Sometimes, I’ll slide a literary novel into the nonfic slot. This year, I started with Robinson Crusoe, which made me cringe some, but was surprisingly sharp in prose compared to some of the more verbose novels that followed. (Looking at you, Nathaniel Hawthorne!)*

The final slot belongs to Stephen King. Back around 2010, I made it my mission to get through his entire canon, minus a book on the Red Sox, stray anthologies where the story would just show up in a collection later anyway, and screenplays. Only, I read Storm of the Century. Wow! And this was right before his accident. But I expected it to take only five years, saving the Bachman books for last. [Pause for hysterical laughter.] This year, thirteen years later, I’ll get through all seven Bachman books after reading Fairy Tale and wrap it up with the new one, Holly, in October.

So how many books did I read in 2022?

104.

You read that right. 104. I include audiobooks in that list. Some say audiobooks aren’t the same, and they are right. So audiobooks shouldn’t count. They are wrong. I have spoken.

The audiobooks are great for getting through books that might be a slog, be really long, or finding a new author. I’ve had an Audible subscription for years. Except for the Star Wars novels, which aren’t really a big part of my reading stack, I get annoyed when the books are done like radio plays. I’m reading with my ears. Just give me one or two narrators (Gareth Powell’s books use four or five). I want the prose. Though the reader can be fun. Johnny Depp sounds dead on like Keith Richards reading 2/3 of Life, even reading Part 2 as a stoned version of Keef. (Keith handles the back third of his life, and isn’t a bad reader himself.)

It also let’s me deal with a nagging Harold Bloom problem. Harold’s list includes two rather difficult novels to get through. The first is Crime and Punishment, which isn’t really that long for a Russian novel. But reading can be a slog. Then I learned from an actual Russian and an American who spoke Russian that the translations into English, French, and German lose something. So I listened to Crime and Punishment on audio. Likewise, I found Henry James’s Portrait of a Lady, to be a slog. Maybe it was James doing his own literary criticism, and at the beginning to boot. (Pro tip: Doing your own criticism, even your own reviews, is frowned upon. Even Jonathan Franzen doesn’t do that. Might explain why I’m in the minority not liking him. The dude can obviously write, just not what I like.) As someone who reads 25 pages a sitting, it took me two sittings to get through an interminable scene of English bankers mumbling about how awful it must be not to be English or a banker. So, I figured audio would help, like it did with Dostoyevski.

Spoiler alert: It didn’t.

For the most part, though, audio lets me get two books at a time in. I can do eight books a month with well-scheduled breaks or reading first thing in the morning. Some days, when I travel to the office afternoons for ye olde day jobbe, audio is better than print. Those days, I only read about fifty pages, but I can get in an hour of listening. On days I work all day from home, I read on average a hundred pages and still manage 30-45 minutes while taking a walk or doing laundry.

This year, once I start Holly, I may slow down. A hundred pages a day is a lot to get in when you have a family. We’re looking at downsizing now that my wife’s youngest is moving out and getting married. That promises to take up a lot of time. And really, ten pages at a sitting not only is how most books are written, it might make me a better writer. If I read in sips, I’ll write stories in sips.

And the rotation is changing again. There are some spiritual books I want to read. Not new age stuff like Happiness Is the Road. More like apocrypha and things that went into building the culture. On the same note, much of my audio wishlist has gone to classics not on Bloom’s list (You owe me an apology for Portrait, Harry! [Wags finger thusly!]) and my personal favorite, banned books! Starting with Fahrenheit 451. Plus the usual music bios, history, and authors I don’t normally read in print.

What won’t I read? No diet books. Certain celebrity memoirs. I’m much more interested in Mel Brooks and Harry Potter villain Tom Felton than anything the Kardashians have to say. No politics. Most of it is clickbait trash anyway. Not much of a romance person, especially with a wife who watches Hallmark constantly. And I’ve lost my taste for fantasy.

And if my list doesn’t resemble yours, good. You should read what you want. It’s like music. I don’t get tribal about music. It’s all about what hits my ears right.

Reading, whether with your eyes or your ears, should be the same.

*In Nate’s defense, he was a better short story writer. More Stephen King than Herman Melville.

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