Lee Wochner: Writer. Director. Writing instructor. Thinker about things.


How to read 462 books per year

Last year I attended a business seminar out of town. On the first day during lunch I found myself seated with five other guys roughly my age who come from worlds very different than my own. To wit:  When I said that I read between one to two books a week, they gasped. They couldn’t believe it. Some of their questions:

  •  “When do you have time?”
  • “What kind of books?”
  • “How do you pick what books you’re going to read or not?”
  • and, most penetratingly, “WHY?”

Because, you see, these guys didn’t just read fewer books than I do. They read NO books. Ever. Every one of them seemed smart and successful, but they read no books. Ever.

(In fairness, I watch no sports. Ever. Even in bars.)

Today on the LA Times’ site I came across this interview with someone who read 462 books last year. No, that’s not a typo. Four hundred and sixty-two last year. (So far this year, she’s above 10 books. And today is January 9th.) Reading this, my questions were remarkably familiar:

  • “When do you have time?”
  • “What kind of books?”
  • “How do you pick what books you’re going to read or not?”
  • “WHY?”

My immediate reaction was, “Well, certainly she isn’t retaining much.” But then I tried to remember the plot of the Brad Meltzer book I read two years ago and couldn’t. (What I could remember were the plot twists I saw coming from miles away — which says less about my cleverness than it does about my glee at the time about being right.) Is this Meltzer’s fault or mine? Probably both, but somewhat more Meltzer’s:  there wasn’t a memorable character in the book, and novels should be about people. Checking out Meltzer’s site also helped me feel better about this, because even after looking at the titles of his novels I couldn’t pick out the one I’d read, and even after reading the plot descriptions it was a toss-up until I remembered that the book involved brothers in a bank. Meltzer, who seems like a nice guy and who is a very successful writer with legions of fans, isn’t writing books for me. So I don’t find them memorable.

On the other end of the spectrum, I can remember large swatches of Philip Roth’s “The Plot Against America” and “Everyman,” as well as Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road,” “No Country for Old Men” and “All the Pretty Horses,” all of which I read in the same timeframe. So I’m not slipping into dementia.

I have to wonder if it’s good to read 462 books in one year. This would certainly help me tidy up my nightstand, where the stack of “books in waiting” has seemingly through meiosis become the two stacks of books in waiting.  I’m almost finished with the biography of Brian Eno (invaluable, although written by a sycophant) and the Inhumans graphic novel “Silent War,” I’ve made a good start on Julian Barnes’ latest (a meditation on death), and I’ve got only two stories left to read in the T.C. Boyle collection “Tooth and Claw.” But that still leaves the histories of Germany under the Nazis, the history of the Roman Empire, and God knows what’s waiting at the bottom. (And, atop it all, is last week’s New Yorker with Barnes’ latest short story, which I’m halfway through.)

But if I could read all of this times 60 in the course of one year, would any of it prove to be notable? And what would be the rest of the price paid? In 1795, someone named J.G. Heinzmann listed the physical consequences of excessive reading: “susceptibility to colds, headaches, weakening of the eyes, heat rashes, gout, arthritis, hemorrhoids, asthma, apoplexy, pulmonary disease, indigestion, blocking of the bowels, nervous disorder, migraines, epilepsy, hypochondria, and melancholy.”


Leave a Reply