There’s always a strange tension I experience when perusing book lists, and you know how much I adore a good book list.
Forthcoming title lists are so full of promise—debut novelists to discover and perennial favorites with new releases that I will pre-order without question (The Sentence by Lousise Erdrich in November, to be precise). The tension comes in wanting to read everything new and fearing that I’m missing out on backlist titles.
A fellow reader and friend shared this article from Book Riot that pinpoints my anxiety. In “Is it worth your 2,500,” contributor Kelly Jensen explains that at a rate of 50 books per year and assuming a healthy 50 years of reading, you only get 2,500 books in your lifetime. So after your existential crisis in which you question all of your life choices, you may ask yourself “is this book one of my 2,500?”
Now, I know that some of you optimists are thinking you can beat death, or, maybe not beat death but read faster. I’ll give you that, but even at a rate of 100 books a year, you’re only going to get 5,000. So what do you do with that knowledge? Here’s a few things that have occurred to me:
Read what you want—We need different books at different times in our lives. I’ve read more romantic comedies this year than at any other time in my life because I have needed entertainment, escape, and humor. Your 2,500 should include the books YOU need and those that bring you enjoyment.
Give up—Nancy Pearl’s 50-page rule will set you free. If you’re not into a book after the first 50 pages, let it go without remorse. This can be a challenge, especially if you’re reading something that others have recommended to you or has won 15-billion literary awards. Move on. Trust me. If you want to try a title later, you can.
Go back—It’s incredibly easy to read nothing but new books and miss some incredible backlist titles. My book club intentionally reads a mix of new and older titles for this reason. If you keep a TBR (to be read) list, take a look at it and choose something that piqued your interest 3 years ago instead of succumbing to the pressure to read the latest thriller with all the hype. Plus—that title will be readily available from the library.
Re-read—It sounds counterintuitive that an awareness of the limited number of books you get in a life would encourage re-reading, but hear me out. There are some books that have to be experienced across a lifespan. Reading Jane Austen in college is different than reading Jane Austen in your 40s (thank goodness). While I don’t re-read often, there are a handful of books that I will never tire of reading again. These are also the perfect books to read when you’re in a reading rut.
Get social—Talking with other readers is a wonderful way to get recommendations. It’s especially helpful if you have fellow readers who share your reading preferences. They can become sources of the best recommendations and introduce you to authors you might have missed.
Take a deep breath. We only get 2,500-5,000 books, but let that be a liberating thought. Each book that gives you joy, deeper insight, catharsis, or knowledge is a gift. Enjoy!