On Saturday, May 23, I finished reading The Reformation, Will Durant’s 1,000 page book on, well, the reformation in Europe. There was a nice symmetry to the length being about 1,000 pages since this was also the 1,000th book I finished since I started keeping a list in January 1996. That is a span of over 25 years. For those curious, here is graphical breakdown of those years:
For those unfamiliar with my list, I keep it using a few simple rules:
- Only a book that I finish gets on the list. Unfinished books don’t show up.
- I don’t rank books, but a book that I would read again, or recommend, I’ll make bold on the list.
- Re-reading a book counts as a finished book. Thus, the list is a list of all books I’ve finished, even those read multiple times. It is not a list of distinct titles.
- What constitutes a book? I use my judgement. There are a few short books (#789 The Testament of Mary is one. But I also counted the full issues of Astounding that I read for my Vacation in the Golden Age as books since they were of equivalent length.)
I finished the very first book on my list, From Earth to Heaven by Isaac Asimov, on January 13, 1996. I was in New York at the time, on vacation. I can no longer recall what possessed me to start keeping a list. It is possible that I had already come across Eric W. Leuliette’s list of what he’s read since 1974. In any case, I managed to keep the list going in various forms and mediums. Twenty five years later, I finished my 1,000th book. The canonical list has, for some time now, resided in a Leuchtturm1917 notebook. Here’s the first page with entries from 1996, and the most recent pages leading up to and including my 1,000th book:
Sometimes I’ll add some additional notes in the notebook that don’t appear on any of the other forms of my list.
So, it took me 25 years to finish 1,000 books. That’s somewhat deceptive, however. From 1996-2012, I read either paper or the occasional e-book. In that time, I completed about 500 books. That’s about 16 years or about 31 books per year, on average. In early 2013, however, I decided to give audiobooks a try as a way of allowing myself to get more reading done. Since 2013, I’ve read an additional 500 books, so that’s 500 books in 7 years or about 71 books per year on average. My page has been increasing!
In 2017, I decided to see how much I really could read, given the freedom audiobooks provided, and the fact that I had slowly been increasing the speed at which I listen to audiobooks. (Today, I usually listen to a book at somewhere between 1.5 and 1.75x normal speed, depending on the narrator). I set a record in 2017, reading 58 books that year. But that record didn’t last long. In 2018 I read 130 books; in 2019, 113 books. So far in 2020, I’m on pace to read 110. Indeed, I sort of sprinted to the 1,000th book milestone. At the beginning of May I’d read 983 books. That means I read an additional 17 books (including 2 books that were over 1,000 pages each) in the first 23 days of the month. It is, by far, a record-breaking month for me, and one that I am not likely to repeat for some time.
Given the pace I’ve set for the last 3 years, I’d predict, assuming no significant changes, that I’ll finish my 2,000th book in July 2029, a little more than 9 years from now. What took me 25 years to do the first time, should be much quicker the second time.
The books that I read run the gamut of the Dewey Decimal System. While I haven’t looked recently, I think nonfiction outpaces fiction about 60/40. In the last 3 years, it’s probably more like 70/30.
Why read so much, and why list it out? Well, I’ve said elsewhere how I look at my reading as my real education. I learned to read in grade school; I learned to think critically in high school; I learned to learn in college. Once college was over, i was finally prepared to learn–and then had to enter the workforce. So reading is my way of learning. The list acts a reminder of what I’ve read (and what I’ve learned), but also a kind of literary autobiography. I can look at the list and for nearly any book on it, I can recall where I was and what was happening in my life when I read it.
And what about before the list? I’ve often wished I started my list much earlier. I was 24 years old when I started it and 2 years out of college. Looking back over that time, and thinking about books I read in college, and high school, books I read in grade school. Books I got from Weekly Reader and checked out of the library, children’s books that I read on my own or with help from my parents, I’d estimate the total to be not more than 500 books, and probably somewhat less than that.
When I finished the final words of Will Durant’s The Reformation on Saturday, I was sitting out on the deck, enjoying sunshine. I had a quiet, private moment of achievement. Then I started on the next book. I jumped from the middle ages in Europe to the present achievements in physics with Brian Greene’s latest, Until the End of Time, which I’ll like finish today and mark down as book #1,001.
I occasionally get questions about my reading and my list. If you have any, feel free to drop them in the comments below. I’ll do my best to answer them.
Congrats on the achievement marker–a major accomplishment for sure!
I also keep a Books Read list (and Films Seen and Life Events lists), although I’ve only been tracking since 2006. I’m far from 1,000 books read.
My question for you is whether there are books, authors, subjects, genres that don’t work for you in an audiobook format? I love audiobooks, but, with certain ones, I can find my mind drifting, or I’ll find it impossible to keep the character straight. A lousy narrator or a recording with ample white noise can ruin it for me too. Since you listen to so many audiobooks, do you encounter ones that don’t work for you? Or, any tips to plow through these hurdles?
Nicholas, the biggest hurdle I’ve encountered in audiobooks is a poor narrator. I can live with poor sound quality and a good narrator (example: Jeffrey DeMunn’s excellent narration in Stephen King’s Dreamcatcher, despite the poor sound quality.) What can’t stand is a poor narrator. When I first started with Audible in 2013, the version of James Clavell’s Shogun had a terrible narrator. A few years later, it was redone with Ralph Lister as the narrator and I bought the new version even though I already had the old one because the narration was so much better. In some instances, though, the narrator just doesn’t work for me. This is the case with Larry McKeever, for instance, who narrates many of James Michener’s books. In the case of Chesapeake, for instance, I skipped the audio and just read the paperback. Fortunately, my experience has been that there are many more good narrators than poor ones.
Another issue is with books with dense technical material or material that I am really trying to learn from. A recent example is Brian Greene’s The Hidden Reality. In this case, I often listen to the audiobook, while reading the paper or e-book at the same time.
Finally, I am a big marker-upper of books, highlighting passages, writing notes in margins, etc. The bookmark/comment functionality that Audible provides doesn’t work for me in this regard, so when I am listening to a book that I know I am going to want to markup, I usually have a paper copy as well.
Jamie, congratulations on getting to a substantial milestone. I could get there by counting “Hop on Pop” and other such literary tomes. Because of you, I’ve started tracking, though probably not with the same precision.
I have Durant’s series on my bookshelf, but haven’t made progress on them. I think I’ll give Diarmaid MacCulloch’s history on the Reformation a try if only because it’s on Audible as well. I’ve used Audible a lot over the past 7 years, mostly because my eyes have protested reading. I finally have a pair that work.
Anyway, keep it up. Whenever you get a novel out, I look forward to reading it.
Thanks, Ben! The estimated 500 books I read in my life before keeping my list would include books like “Hop on Pop!” Durant’s books are in many ways outdated, but there are three reasons I absolutely love them: (1) they provide a good lesson in how history was viewed throughout the 20th century, which in itself has useful insights; (2) the sheer scope of the enterprise dazzles me; and (3) I love Durant’s writing style and his sardonic wit.
Impressive and inspiring! For a few years now, I’ve read around 100 books per year. (I think I reached 150 in 2019.) Anything counts. Sometimes it’s a graphic novel of 64 pages, sometimes it’s a 1000 page tome. Audiobooks are also included (a handful per year).