Read Like You’re Stranded On A Deserted Island

The Guardian ran an article that I have written several times on my blog. Multiple the average number of books you read in a year, times the number of years you think you’ve got left to live, and that gives you how many books you have left to read in your lifetime. I figure I have 500-1,000. I already own over a 1,000 unread books, and I buy new ones at the rate maybe 5 a week. So, I’m buying another 2,500-5,000 books before I die, even though I’ll only read 500-1,000 more books.


This brings up all kinds of problems, beyond the obvious stupidity of buying books that I’ll never read. The math is simple! I read one book a week, and I buy five? Could I be any more stupid?

Each week I read a book—and that week might actually be my last week on Earth. Or it might be one of a 1,000 weeks I might have left. Either way, should I ever read a so-so book? Or even a merely very good book? I’m pretty sure there are way more than 1,000 excellent books out there that I haven’t read. So, each week, should I think to myself, “Hey, let’s pick a mediocre book and read it this week!”

Everyone loves to play that game – “What one book would you take to a deserted island?”  Isn’t that how we should be think every time we pick up a book to read?  Read every book as if it was our last?

I read one book a week.  I should always think to myself that this week could be my last.  Shouldn’t the book I pick to read be one that’s at least deserted island worthy?

It’s not like we’re short on great books.

I should do two things.  First, don’t buy books until I’m ready to read them.  Second, don’t read anything less than a great book.

JWH – 6/1/14

4 thoughts on “Read Like You’re Stranded On A Deserted Island”

  1. You’re not your!
    I read about an experiment where people were asked to choose a movie to see tonight and one to see a month from now. The selections made for the same day tended to be comedies and action movies, and a month from now, the big dramatic movies were chose… It´s very similar with our reading choices. Anyway, I´m planning to read all the Egan books that I have left now, and the Chiand short stories, I think I still haven’t read a couple of them.

  2. I recently (last 5 years) have given myself permission to stop reading a book I don’t like before I finish it. I had always been one of those people who finished every book I started. Something like your math in the column occurred to me (although not as accurately, because I am, of course, and English major) and I started using my remaining reading time to read things I wanted to read,

    1. Carla, I’m an English major too, even though I took many math courses in hopes of becoming a science major. My saying is, “Never read a bad novel when you could be reading a great novel.”

  3. Oh man, I feel this so much. I’m only 21 one, so all things going well I have quite a bit of time on Earth left to live. But that’s no excuse to read bad books. I routinely, as often as I feel like, go through my to-read shelf on GoodReads and reconsider every book, as I’m a reader who’s tastes change rapidly. Is this a book I would enjoy reading now? Do I want to read this, or is pressure from my friends making me consider this? Is there a book I would rather read more than this? All questions I consider where it comes to books now.

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