Every New Year’s Day, I vow to keep a record of every book I read over the next 12 months. I have a special notebook for this, a large journal with blue leather covers, and that is all I’ve ever used it for.
I’ve had the journal for 15 years, and you might be surprised to learn that most of the pages are blank.
In January I dutifully start a list, but my resolve disintegrates almost immediately, and the list tapers off, sometimes by late January, always by March.
Some years I don’t even start it.
I am not entirely sure why this is. Except for 2006 and 2007, the years I joined my nephew’s Competitive Reading Club, I have never been able to sustain a yearly record. You need to understand that my family can turn anything into a competition — cracker smooshing (too hard to explain), fudge making, NFL game picking — so why not reading?
The rules of the Competitive Reading Club were simple. Read a book. Write down the title and the author. Give it a star rating and a review of no more than five words. (Good training for this job.) My review of Frank Delaney’s 2007 novel “Tipperary,” for instance, was this: “Forrest Gump in Ireland.” One word to spare.
According to the club rules, the value of a book was weighted by length, so a book of up to 499 pages was worth one point, between 500 and 750 pages was worth two, and up to 1,000 was worth three. More than a thousand pages? What, are we crazy?
I won easily in 2006, with 78 points, and earned a $70 gift card. The next year, though, my total dropped to 74, and I came in second. And then I got this job, and while my numbers almost certainly rose — maybe even doubled — I quit the club and my record-keeping fell apart.
Some time ago, I read somewhere that a person can calculate fairly accurately how many books they will read before they die. There’s a formula, as I recall, that involves taking your age and the number of books you’ve read, or maybe it’s the average number of books you read in a year, and then multiplying and dividing and something about actuarial tables and I can’t remember because I don’t want to know.
Maybe I don’t keep track of how many books I read in a year because I don’t want to know how few I have left to read.
The fact that there is a finite number of books I will read is infinitely depressing. I mean, of course there is a finite number, because my life is finite, but that is another depressing fact. The fact that there is a finite number of chocolate chip cookies I will consume is also depressing.
The idea that I might learn that number — and thus with each book read, know that I am counting ever closer to zero — is even more depressing.
When I walk into a library, or a bookstore, or even my little locked book room on the 11th floor of the Strib, I see thousands of books that I want to read. When I go through the day’s mail — anywhere from 20 to 100 books — I often want to read them all.
Choosing books to read should not make me feel like I am inching closer to doom. It should make me feel like I am expanding, growing, opening up.
And so I do not keep track. I do not count. I just read.
What about you? Do you keep life lists of books? A book journal? Do you write mini-reviews of what you read?
Why? Why not? Write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Laurie Hertzel is the Star Tribune’s senior editor for books. On Twitter: @StribBooks. On Facebook: facebook.com/startribunebooks