Okay, I have a friend (Carol would be most upset if I shared her name) who reads books like one breathes oxygen. Note: please resist the urge to channel my bad metaphors entry from yesterday.
Unnamed friend Carol makes a habit of reading all the fiction and poetry submissions for the National Book Award each year and then deciding who she thinks should win. I would never have known this had I not casually mentioned an entry or two as being particularly noteworthy. Aside from her prodigious skills as a quick and thorough reader, I find it remarkable how many books she reads--I will guess on average 100 books a year. BTW, Matthiesen is a shoe-in.
I read around 50. I am proud of this fact. Some years it ends up being fewer (particularly this year where I have been working on a novel), some years more. My personal goal is a book a week. Well, this type of reading, though it may sound like a lot--requires discrimination and selectivity. I had this discussion with another friend of mine, and her comment was that I am nuts if I buy all the books I read.
Confession: I do. I spend obscene amounts of money at Barnes & Noble, Amazon, ABEbooks. I have a library card, and it gathers dust like an old library card in an attic with poor ventilation gathers dust (okay, channel the bad metaphor discussion). Unnamed friend Carol does not buy her books. Other unnamed friend does not buy her books either. They borrow. They return. They own no bad books.
Me, I have to have them. Have to have them all (the REALLY bad ones, I do return). They're a visual history. They tell me what I know, where I've been. I pull them off the shelf, smell the pages, fell the edges. If my brain had a picture, my bookshelf would be it. Book knowledge by photo. Tactile history.
Thomas Jefferson when he died was the last person who could legitimately claim to have read every book in print. His library numbered 10,000 volumes. This has become another goal of mine--not the reading part. With 175,000 new books a year, it can't happen. But the 10,000 volumes? I'm working on it. By the time I'm senile, my books should hold up the roof. By then I won't remember what's in them, and I can start over.