Saturday, May 05, 2007


By Eric C. Forbes

DID YOU KNOW that a book is published every 40 seconds? This includes over 10,000 new novels a year, with almost 100,000 more on publishers’ backlists. The number of books in the world is growing at five times the rate of the human population! Even if you read the whole day you’d need 163 lifetimes to get through all the books currently on, according to one estimate.

A little trivia here. I have no idea how reliable these figures are, but according to some sources, around 450,000 English-language books were published in 2006. And around 200,000 titles were published a year in Britain alone. Any large British publisher will receive more than 2,000 unsolicited manuscripts in a year. The average sale of a hardback book by a first-time writer is 400 copies. These are just some of the realities of the publishing business. Yes, like I have reiterated countless times, not everyone sell as many copies as Dan Brown, Barbara Taylor Bradford, Jackie Collins, Jeffrey Archer, Stephen King or J.K. Rowling.

The esteemable Robert McCrum of the Observer says that we now live in a golden age of reading where never before have so many books been so readily available. But more than ever, we are tortured by choice, he says.

We tend to buy more books than we can read. And the strange thing is, the more we read, the more we want to buy. It’s a vicious circle. Reading has become an addiction, a hard habit to break. I have a room full of books and lots more in boxes. My bedside table is already overly crowded. It is a fact that it is impossible to read all the books published. And there are so many good books coming out every month. It is impossible to read all the books we want to read. Each and every one of us will have to look for our very own reading journeys. I guess that’s what reading is all about.

Taste, of course, is a very personal matter, and not always explicable. The quality you appreciate might be abhored by another.

And let’s not forget what Michael Dirda of the Washington Post said about books: “Reading a lot of books isn’t important. Thinking about what you’ve read is.”

As Gabriel Zaid put it in So Many Books: Reading and Publishing in an Age of Abundance (2003): “What does it matter how cultivated and up-to-date we are, or how many thousands of books we’ve read? What matters is how we feel, how we see, what we do after reading; whether the street and the clouds and the existence of others mean anything to us; whether reading makes us, physically, more alive.”

What’s your reading journey like?


Blogger Lydia Teh said...

Eric, yes, too many books to read. I also have many untouched tomes. BTW you must think of what to do with all those books one day. It's worth bequeathing them to someone who'd appreciate them. I know of an American preacher who willed his library to someone dear to him.

Monday, May 07, 2007 5:34:00 AM  
Blogger Argus Lou said...

Eric, good topic you've brought up. One's reading journey? Mmm, mine's rather erratic. But I'm blessed to have the time these days to read 3 to 5 books a month.

Whatever I think can add something to my heart and mind will be on my bedside table: 'Women Who Run With Wolves', 'The Spell' by A. Hollinghurst, 'Reasons to Live' by Amy Hempel (at the moment).

You're right - the more books I read the more I buy. The German Amazie delivers free to Switzerland (and gives friendly discounts!), so that's an added temptation. Latest haul: 'Unleashed', 'Lullaby' by C. Palahniuk, 'Inheritance of Loss', 'Gone With the Wind' (a friend convinced me it's not a romance - "Look, what happened to the protagonist in the end!" she said).

Monday, May 07, 2007 12:37:00 PM  
Blogger Alex Tang said...

Eric, thanks for an interesting post. I know that there are many books published but did not realised the stats. And this does not include those published online, does it?

My reading is erratic in the sense that I read all the time. I usually read about 5 books at a time, usually 4 non fiction and 1 fiction. What I read depends on what is my interest at that time, what I am researching on, and what books I can lay my hands on. I read fast, but savor the words and syntax as I go along.

I buy all the books that I read and since I read about 20-30 books a month, you can imagine how cluttered my home library is.

Reading and book collecting is an addiction, for me at least. It is what Nicholas Basbanes call "gentle madness." If they lock me up in the loony bin,please God, let it be with some books.

Monday, May 07, 2007 5:29:00 PM  
Anonymous Rodney said...

Eric, I have been reading and re-reading 'So Many Books' and I always find it fascinating. I tend to read and re-read most books because I forget easily.

Thursday, May 10, 2007 8:00:00 AM  
Blogger Eric Forbes said...

Yes, Rodney, I know what you mean. Some books are so good that you tend to read them time and again.

Thursday, May 10, 2007 10:58:00 PM  

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