On several occasions, friends and family politely informed me I must downsize my book collection.
The specific enjoyment of working at a desk, surrounded by books, may not be everyone’s idea of idyllic, however, for me it is close to sublime. It’s who I am.
While pondering a work backlog in said enjoyably sublime, idyllic location, my mind began to wander. It arrived, somewhat predictably, on the question which book to read next? One thing led to another and finally to the context of the current series of posts about going home, my remaining time, and this analysis.
How many books can I read during the coming years?
Set aside what we all know about life — we could die tonight — and answering this question is useful to a bibliophile. Here goes:
I can read 50 pages a day if I keep at it. I don’t read books every day but expect to come close as I transition to full retirement next year. It’s an inexpensive way for a person with limited resources to stay engaged in society. Assume I read 50 pages, six days per week.
According to the Social Security Administration life expectancy table I can expect to live another 18.5 years. Assume I do. That would be 288,600 pages read. Sounds like a lot, yet it is a finite number.
How long is a book? Obviously they vary in length and some are more interesting than others and read faster. For purposes of analysis, I used the Harry Potter series (UK edition) as my guide to book length. The seven books in the series total 3,407 pages, averaging 486.7 per book. This is somewhat arbitrary but sounds about right. My reading potential is 592.97 books during the coming years. If I can do it, that would more than double the number of books I now read per year to 32.
There are issues with this hopeful analysis.
What if my eyesight fails? That’s possible and somewhat likely given the results of my infrequent visits to the optometrist. We’ve discussed macular degeneration, cataracts, optic nerve disorders like glaucoma, and the condition of my retinas. While my eye health is reasonably good, that could change. If it does, it could impact my ability to read. It could also restrict books read to large print editions or those available electronically where the font size can be enlarged. I don’t like thinking about it, but there it is: a bibliophile’s nightmare.
There is also a question of cognitive engagement. Will I be able to understand what I read for my life span? Will reading help resist neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and Huntington’s disease? Will the head trauma I experienced at age 3 manifest itself in my remaining years in the form of a neurocognitive disorder? Will I experience a stroke or head trauma that will impact cognitive function? While less worrisome than loss of eyesight, if I lose the ability to comprehend what I read I’ll just have to deal with it.
An air traffic controller can land only one plane at a time and so it is with reading books. The most important question was my first one: which book will I read next? Carefully considered answers are important at full retirement age.
My friends and family are right, I should downsize my collection of books. Partly because given the remaining time I can’t read but a small percentage of them. I must focus on those relevant to my current life. Downsizing is also important because I don’t want my paternal legacy to be passing on an unorganized mountain of stuff for our daughter to spend her time going through. That would be rude and not what I want to be as a father.
I’m going home next year and hope to continue reading books. There’s a lot to learn and experience inside their covers. Reading helps sustain our lives in a turbulent world.