We were walking the dog the other day and I asked whichever children were accompanying me (it's not that I have that many, but they are all at home at the moment) how many books they thought we have in our house. Sarah estimated ten thousand, which seemed to me to be a reasonable guess - almost every room has bookcases, and they are insufficient to hold all the books, which are also in boxes and stacks and spread across the floor where stacks collapsed. When Caroline was in kindergarten, she was recruited to participate in the kindergarten cohort of the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, a U.S. Department of Education-sponsored study that included periodic in person assessments, teacher questionnaires, and telephone interviews of parents. One question they always asked me was how many children's books we had in our home; I remember estimating eight hundred the first time I was asked and two thousand years later -- the interviewers always seemed surprised; not skeptical, just surprised.
Most of those have been cleared out now - they went to neighbors, to neighborhood preschools and to Morningside Elementary and to book drives for other schools and maybe some of them to Goodwill -- but we all are accumulators of books, and the result is apparent in almost every room. I have been thinking about this recently not because I am concerned about the clutter (which I should be more than I am) but because I now know that it is hopeless that I will every get everything read that I intend to read.
Years ago (I don't even remember when) I used to keep track of the books I read on 3 by 5 inch index cards. After that there was a notebook; I don't know what happened to either that or the 3 by 5 cards. Then there was nothing for a long time (which may have had something to do with having children) and then there was Goodreads. I liked being able to easily add a book to the list of books I want to read, and then move them, one at a time, from "Want to Read" to "Currently Reading" to "Read." And then there are the reading challenges, setting goals for how many books you plan to read, and periodically checking how you're doing. One recent year I set a goal of fifty, and came no where near it. This year's goal was 26, but I have been reading more (I have periodically sworn off watching television news, this year, and have consciously tried to read instead) and I am now at forty books read in 2017, and may finish that book on the Kindle by the end of the year (or not).
But here's the calculation I just did. Let's say, for purposes of discussion, that I have another thirty years of reading ahead of me (which would get me to an age older than both of my long-lived parents) - and I managed to read an average of fifty books a year for those thirty years. That is only fifteen hundred books, for the rest of my life - and I just got eleven books for Christmas (okay, so one was a book on hydroponic gardening that is more of a reference book and probably won't be read cover-to-cover) and since Christmas I've bought five more, including the one I am currently reading on my Kindle.
I really am fine with getting rid of most of them, after I've read them - I regularly pass them along to someone else, or leave them in a neighborhood Little Free Library, or drop them off in a Better World Books donation box. Our house is not full to the rafters with books we've read (although some of them we have) but with books we mean to read. So I guess this means I should stop writing, right now, and start reading - because I can't really do too much about the thirty years, at this point, but maybe I can increase the fifty. Fifteen hundred is just not a big enough number.