Sunday, January 2, 2011

Crunching the Numbers

This one goes out to all the auditors, accountants, IRS fanboys, and, if you're anything like me, listmakers.

Since my deployment to Iraq in 2005, I've kept a reading log, charting by author and title what I've read.  It started as a way for me to keep track of all those books which came to me in care packages and the free books (aka crack cocaine) at the MWR tents scattered around the Forward Operating Base in Baghdad.  When I returned home, I kept up the habit and now it's a memory-jogger, reminding me when I've read such-and-such and uncorking my competitive juices (yes, I'm a reader in competition with myself to see how many books I can read this year, compared to previous years).

When I was 10 years old, I kept an early version of this reading log in a battered Mead notebook, its corkscrew-wire binding eventually flattened from so much use, making it hard to turn the pages which, by that point, were hanging by only a few intact paper chads.  I would record things like "3/24/1973....Where the Red Fern Grows....Rawls, Wilson.....208 pgs."  I only carried on the habit for about nine months and I suppose it was eventually tossed in the trash can when I grew up and went to high school.  Oh, what I wouldn't give to have that Mead notebook back in my hands right now!

Forensically-speaking, I suppose the past six years of reading logs could offer some sort of psychological insight into my character if you were to analyze the books by title, author and thematic content.


I just care about the numbers:
2005:  50 books read
2006:  40 books read
2007:  61 books read
2008:  66 books read
2009:  46 books read

This past year, I read a grand total of 54 books.  For the first time, I decided to start counting pages, since in any given year I could read a brick like War and Peace or a willow like Ethan Frome.  In 2010, I read a total of 15,064 pages, for an average of 279 pages per book.

I'm not sure I could read at a higher, faster rate than this, but I've already got a good jump-start on 2011.  Yesterday, Day One of the year, I downloaded Stephen King's novella* Ur** to my Kindle and finished it in the same 24 hours.  One book, one day--this bodes well for the year.

UPDATE:  I forgot to mention the poll over at the L.A. Times' Jacket Copy blog:  How many books did you read in 2010?  So far, the majority votes have been cast for the "21-35" range.

UPDATE, PART DEUX:  I was going to make mention of some books I wish I'd read in 2010, but didn't.  Here's hoping these make it off Mount To-Be-Read this coming year:  Skippy Dies, The Instructions, Room, Tinkers, and What the World Will Look Like When All the Water Leaves Us.

*Novellas count, as do poetry and children's books.  Religious tracts, however, don't.
**How was it, you ask?  Fair-to-middlin' King.  Certainly not his worst, but not a classic either.  I remember hearing about Ur at the beginning of 2009 and immediately wanting to read it.  Unfortunately, it's only available on the Kindle (and now audiobook) and at the time I was Kindle-less.  Ur is the ultimate in metafiction, an experience that can only be written for and read on the Amazon device.  The thin plot revolves around an English professor at a small college who buys a Kindle and discovers, under the Kindle's "Experimental" setting, a hidden world of "Ur Books" which feature "new" novels written by Ernest Hemingway, James M. Cain and others in a parallel universe.  There are some pleasant in-jokes and plenty of passages which read like an Amazon press release.  All in all, not bad for three bucks and a few hours.


  1. Do you count books that you read part of, or books that don't have many words in them, like art books? My total this year was 50, with many more skimmed and perused, down a bit from 58 in 2009. But then I had to proofread my own darn book a few times this year. I have been keeping lists for a long time, too, and I can really picture the exact place and time where I read many of them when I look back at the list. I wish I'd kept one as a kid.

  2. Jenny,
    Since I'm the kind of reader who'll stick with the book no matter how bad or tedious, there really aren't any books that I read "part of." I can count on one hand the number of books that I've abandoned before the end. Often to my detriment, I'm loyal to a book.

    As for books with minimal amounts of words....yes, I do count those as well. For instance, so-called graphic novels (especially those from one of my favorite publishers, Fantagraphics Books). In the past year, I think there were one or two books which fell into this category.