Happy Easter! I hope you are having a lovely weekend regardless of whether you celebrate the holiday.
Have you ever thought about just how many books are out there, clamoring for your attention, and waiting to be read? Do you realize that no matter how hard you try, you will never be able to read it all? How do you deal with that? This week National Public Radio informed me that “The vast majority of the world’s books, music, films, television and art, you will never see,” and suggested two coping strategies: culling, and surrender:
Culling is the choosing you do for yourself. It’s the sorting of what’s worth your time and what’s not worth your time. … Surrender, on the other hand, is the realization that you do not have time for everything that would be worth the time you invested in it if you had the time, and that this fact doesn’t have to threaten your sense that you are well-read.
I’m somewhere on the journey between culling and surrender, I think. Intellectually I realize I don’t have time to read everything. But I still feel pangs about that, and ease those feelings by mental culling. For example, a couple of years ago I stopped trying to read authors from all 192 countries in the world. It was fun for a while, but then it wasn’t. Reading one author from Azerbaijan can’t possibly give me a sense of the country’s complete literary oeuvre, and I just can’t read it all.
But I do enjoy thinking about it, coming up with schemes for tackling all the world’s literature, and then analyzing the heck out of it. And between LibraryThing and my handy spreadsheet, boy can I analyze! This week LibraryThing rolled out new physical description fields. There are lots of useful things librarians and ordinary people can do with this data (more on that in a minute), but it also lends itself to some fun statistics. For example …
My library’s weight represents only 0.059 elephants, but that same weight in gold is worth nearly $9 million. I would need 4.58 Ikea Billy bookcases to display my books, or 22 U-Haul book boxes if I were moving house. And if I were to create a giant book stack it would be nearly 70 feet tall — just taller than Cleopatra’s Needle, and a few feet shy of the Sphinx. Here’s how my books “stack up” against a whole bunch of landmarks (my books appear in blue, with a double-decker bus on the far left, and Niagara Falls on the far right):
So that’s fun, but I’m also excited — if that’s the right word — about the pagination field (even as I wrote that sentence, I realized what a total geek I am). My spreadsheet keeps track of the books I read each year, and the number of pages in each book. Now for the first time I have a view of my complete library, and I’m fascinated to find the distribution is nearly the same as the chunkiness of my 2010 reading.
If only LibraryThing allowed me to export these new fields, I could have a lot of fun doing more analysis. But perhaps NPR’s wisdom should apply here as well.
Surrender: you can’t analyze it all.
Read more from The Sunday Salon here.