I WILL read 756 books before I die.
That’s presuming that I’ll be reading right up to the fatal moment, at the same rate as I read now, that I don’t re-read anything and that I make 78 – the life expectancy of the Irish male.
It also presumes that I avoid the Russians, or Ulysses, or anything not in English. And that I don’t develop pernicious habits, like gardening or golf.
756 books. It sounds like a lot. But it’s not, of course. Every time I enter a bookstore I spot another dozen books I stick on the mental must-read list.
Add those to the many already on my ‘I’II have to get round to that one’ list, or titles recommended, or ones found browsing online, or classics.
Suddenly 756 doesn’t sound like too many. John Updike’s novels and short stories account for 39 books alone.
You’d therefore be inclined to think that I’ve refined book purchasing to a precise art, buying only what I really, really want to read.
Of course not. Our home is littered with purchases which seemed like a good idea at the time. Some of them are buried away, sources of shame, dead wood (in every respect).
Others have been placed on top of piles, as my better nature tries to remind my actual nature that they deserve a shot. Will they ever get it? Unlikely.
And this is before we get to the boxes in storage elsewhere, containing selections so dubious, or turgid, that they were never read. And never will be.
Dostoevsky’s The Idiot? Not a hope. Not even if I found myself transported to 1860s St Petersburg with nothing else to read.
Eco’s The Island Of The Day Before? I made it to page 151 a few years ago. Pathetically, I can’t bring myself to remove the bookmark. On the plus side the cover looks good.
Steinbeck’s East Of Eden? I’ve even visited its setting – the Salinas Valley – in the years since I bought this one, but I’ve haven’t started into it.
Turns out I’m not alone when it comes to such procrastination.
These titles were no doubt bought with the best of intentions – like my own were.
It’s one thing lamenting the situation but what should I do about it?
As my wife – reading this – is now about to ask: will I ever get rid of these unread books?
And here’s where the second part of the survey comes into play: two thirds of people hoard books because they’re emotionally attached to them, it seems.
Which explains my battered Penguin copy of The Odyssey, a title I’ve hopefully hauled from bookcase to bookcase since I bought it more than 20 years ago.
Like the others above its spine remains uncracked.
Not to worry. I have 756 chances to raise the unread, beginning today.
Page one of The Idiot sounds like a good place to start.