1,260 Books

Every time I pick up an Umberto Eco novel, I launch into the same pep talk mantra: I am smart enough to get this book. I am smart enough to get this book.

This time the book is The Prague Cemetery.

I have had two false starts with the book, but the summary really sells it as a historical mystery set in late nineteenth century Europe. There are the Illuminati, the Jacobins, and, plus, Prague. Also, I’d like to better my record with Eco.

Me: 1

Eco: 2

By page 50 it’s clear that my mantra is wrong and I have made a mistake. I struggle through the next 17 or so pages in a valiant attempt to save some intelligent face, but it’s coming to an end. Every morning I look at the 400 plus pages I have to read in order to say that I read another Eco and I sigh.

Conversation with Lee:

Me: talk me off the cliff.

Lee: Sure.

Me: I am struggling through an Eco book. Should I put it down?

Lee: Yep.

This is unusual since Lee never puts down books before he has finished reading the last page, but before I can ask, he says:

2,400 dude.

Me: 2,400 what?

Lee: 2,400 is the number of books I have left in me to read.

Me: [enter quizzical muttering here]

Lee: I figure I have about 40 more years on the planet and about 60 books a year. So I have about 2,400 books left to read. I ain’t wasting one of them on something I don’t want to read.

Me: [enter eureka/ohm aha here]

Naturally I did the math shortly after hanging up the phone. I am guessing (read: hoping) that I have about 42 years left and average about 30 books a year. That puts me at about 1,260 books I can read before I die.

This makes me glum. To quantify my life in books and to end up at the rather unimpressive number of 1,260 is a bit disappointing. Disappointment leads to panic and panic leads to anger. How can I only have 1,260 books left in me?

I angrily shelve the Eco. I can’t believe this Eco character wants to waste one of my 1,260 books. Who does he think he is? I then get angry with every book I have ever read that I didn’t like, feeling a genuine interest in finding these authors and punching them. People on this list would be E.M Nathanson (do not read The Dirty Dozen, watch The Dirty Dozen), Dan Simmons (Abominable was true to its name), and F. Scott Fitzgerald (but only for Gatsby, which was so dull that it was recorded as one short book, but should have been marked as four). I have never realized the massive responsibility that comes with suggesting or, perish the thought, lending out a book unsolicited.

Mainly I am mad at myself. I have long preached that you should read what you want. And yet I sometimes fall into the trap of reading what I think I should read rather than what I want to read. Additionally, I come from a family of obsessive readers. And I mean that literally. My father is the only person I know who keeps score while reading. He adds up pages toward a yearly goal. If he considers giving up on a book, he goes through the 5 stages of grief until accepting that he won’t be able to list is as a read book. And I am pretty much the same. Or I was.

I have gone down the rabbit hole and begin calculating my life in ways that freak me out. I have 42 (give or take) more days on which I will get birthday gifts. I have 42(ish) Halloweens left. I will probably only own three more cats in my life. If I quit my job and write novels every day for the rest of my life, chances are that I’ll only publish 30 or 40 at the very most. On the heels of this is a rather desperate existential crisis in which I realize just how little time I actually have left and how much time I waste doing things I don’t want to do. When I come out on the other side (read: after the pub), I have found some perspective. With that in mind, I recommend three things:

  1. If you aren’t enjoying reading the book you’re reading, put it down.
  2. Calculate how many books you can read before you die.
  3. And then do whatever the fuck you want for the rest of your life.


Me: 1

Eco: 3

And I am fine with that.

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