August 25, 2008 at 4:42 pm | Posted in Book Blather | 3 Comments

Well, I reached a milestone last night.  The Enchantress of Florence was the 250th book I read this year.


I have somewhat mixed feelings about this.  On the one hand, great!  The Enchantress of Florence was probably the perfect book to read to celebrate #250.  I’ve read some fascinating stuff, and I’m on track if I actually want to try to break 400 this year.  If I’m ever going to do it, it might as well be during the Olympics, right?  On the other hand, what am I reading, really?  If I had sat down on December 31 and made a list of the 250 books I just had to read before the Earth was destroyed by a giant meteor, would it have matched the list I actually did read?


This is what happens when one jumps into something impulsively.  It’s a great learning experience.  And what “learning experience” always means is that at the end, one finds oneself saying, “If I had it to do over again…”


See, what happened was that I had multiple lists piling up of books I wanted to read some day.  I realized that what I was doing was continually adding to this list, while my actual method of selecting books involved wandering through both bookstores and libraries, grabbing whatever looked good, and then only reading the library books.  So the selection on my shelves at home, and the list(s) in my PDA and on various scraps of paper, kept expanding while having no real bearing on my reading.  I decided on a whim to start crossing some of these things off.


I consolidated all the lists, and it turns out to be nearly 1500 titles long.  This means I’ve got my reading mapped out for the next five or ten years, assuming nothing new comes out that I want to read.  In light of this, if I had it to do over again I would definitely have prioritized some titles over others.


Compounding the problem, partway through the year I discovered the Amazon.com Significant Seven, and became fixated on the idea of catching up and reading all the new titles as they came out.  These books prove to be hard to get, because they’re brand new and popular when they come out.  I’ve read 44 so far and still have 60 to go, and there’ll be another seven on Monday.  (Huff, puff).


So what could I have read if I’d started the year with an actual plan, other than to read as many books as possible as fast as I could?

All the Pulitzer Prize winners (fiction): 67 to go

All the National Book Award winners (fiction): 61 to go

All the Booker Prize winners: 35 to go

Everything mentioned in The Novel 100: 44 to go (48 counting Proust)

And, I could almost have made it through all the Oprah books too!


I could just plan to read these next year, knowing that I’ve probably got the chops to do it.  I’m leaning in another direction, though, which is toward Fat Books.  I’ve been avoiding the really huge stuff, like Boswell’s Life of Johnson and Cryptonomicon and Clarissa and The Man Without Qualities and The Recognitions.  But it sure wouldn’t make for very frequent blog posts!


Opinions?  What would you do?  Assuming a deathless curiosity to read every book under the sun, would you go for depth or breadth?



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  1. Congratulations on reaching 250!! 😀

    Can you do both breadth and depth? Do you have to choose? I know that what makes choosing books to read easier for me is setting a goal of reading at least one book from each category I enjoy per month.

  2. Thanks! 🙂

    I suppose one wouldn’t really fault me on ‘lack of depth’ for reading prize-winners such as ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ or ‘Gravity’s Rainbow’ or some of the other titles… On the other hand, it’s also a pretty broad jump from ‘Cryptonomicon’ to ‘Clarissa’ if breadth is the answer.

    Oh dear, now I’m still torn…

  3. Congrats on 250!! I’m working on 50. You’re officially my hero. As far as depth versus breadth, I try to choose a chunkster every once and a while. I guess just try to mix it up.

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