I recently read an article on Lit Hub that calculated (roughly) how many more books you will read before you die. Pretty morbid stuff, right? They categorize you by sex, age, and how many books you typically read a year. Here’s a portion of the list:
According to this guy, as a 20-year-old female who typically reads about 50 books a year (classifying me as a Voracious reader), I will only read 3,050 more books before I die. What a slap to the face! It makes me want to throw my laptop in the trash, haul every book I haven’t yet read into my arms, and read non-stop for the rest of my life. That’s just silly, though. And unrealistic. And as a soon-to-be college graduate, I need to put a lot of time into searching for a job, so that I have the time and money to read 3,050 more books.
Before calculating these depressing numbers, the article discusses how suddenly death occurs and why reading “bad books” is a waste of time. The writer of the article, Emily Temple, quotes Hari Kunzru on the subject: “I used to force myself to finish everything I started, which I think is quite good discipline when you’re young, but once you’ve established your taste, and the penny drops that there are only a certain number of books you’ll get to read before you die, reading bad ones becomes almost nauseating.” Temple seems to agree with this, saying that she often feels guilty for pushing through annoying or boring books.
I think a lot of people struggle with this concept. There are a lot of DNF reviews on Goodreads and here in the blogsphere. I myself used to quit reading a book if it stopped interesting me or if I thought it was poorly written. I used to be one of those people who said that life is too short to read bad books. You’d think, after reading this article and discovering my very limited number of books left to read (3,050 to be exact) that I would still have this mindset. On the contrary, I make it a point to finish every single book I start. I know, that probably sounded like nails on a chalkboard for you. You’re probably reading this thinking I’m crazy. But hear me out.
I took a creative writing class a few years ago, back when I was just ankle-deep into my English major. The professor, who has since become a dear friend to me, was teaching Stephen King’s On Writing. At that point (and actually, still today) I’d only read Carrie. But I truly respected King as a writer and a person. We read his book, watched interviews with him, and listened to him read his own books. Something he said really affected me that summer. He said, “Every book you pick up has its own lesson or lessons, and quite often the bad books have more to teach you than the good ones.” My professor really pushed this on us. She told us that reading bad books not only helped us become better writers, but it would help us become better readers. I think they both have a point.
To be a good writer, you have to read, and you have to read the good, the bad, and the ugly. You learn from books, whether they are poorly written, uninteresting, frustrating, or annoying. Maybe you learn how not to write. Maybe you learn that you’re really not interested in a certain writer. Maybe you learn your friend who recommended the book to you has really bad taste in books. Maybe you learn to pick up that book later in life — maybe right now isn’t the right time for that particular story. Or maybe you learn that it’s too late for that story, that maybe you needed it a year or so ago. I don’t know — I don’t know you, mysterious face staring into your computer/phone/tablet screen. What I do know, though, is that Stephen King and my creative writing professor were right — reading bad books is important.
If you’re a book blogger like myself, I think it’s doubly important to read bad books. I don’t think you can have a legitimate opinion about a book unless you’ve read it in its entirety. You may think I sound like a book snob, and that’s fine, but I’m sticking by my statement. Maybe you stop reading a book after 100 pages. Maybe that book gets really interesting on page 101. Maybe that book teaches you something on page 102. And you may say, “Well Alyssa, if it’s uninteresting for 100 pages, it really not worth it, I don’t care what happens on page 101,” then that’s fine — you’re entitled to your opinion. But I think if you truly love literature, and if you truly want to be an honest book blogger, this stuff should be important to you. Why should I trust that it’s a “bad book” if you didn’t even read it until the end?
Usually, if a book sucks for 3/4 of story, it’s not worth it, I get that. But don’t you think the book deserves to be finished? I do. And if you don’t, that’s cool! I don’t mean to sound like I’m on my high horse. I just want people to think about this topic because I feel like a lot of people just toss a book without a second thought. So at least think about it, okay? If you are worried about your limited amount of time for books (3,050 — I know, I can’t forget it) and you don’t want to waste a second on something uninteresting, that’s fine, I’m not going to try and stop you. But think about it.
If you’re interested in this article with all the depressing calculations, you can check it out here. Thanks for listening to my rant, and I’ll be back next Saturday (I promise!) to deliver more.