How Many Books Do I Have Left to Read?


by Roxanne Tellier

When I was a little kid, I dropped a candy onto the ground. My mother picked it up, brushed it off, and said, “Here you go. It’s fine.”

But it’s got some dirt on it, mum! I can’t eat dirt!

Nonsense,” she said. “You have to eat a peck of dirt before you die.”

My little kid brain was flabbergasted. A peck of dirt? How much was a peck? (It’s eight quarts.) And – before you die? At what point does the dirt eating begin? Can it be done in stages? Or do you have to start shoveling this ‘peck’ of dirt in at some point in your life when your body can better process dirt? As a four- or five-year-old, I was pretty sure that dying was many, many years in the future, but that timing apparently had something to do with a large consumption of dirt. Could I stave off that fateful day, in some faraway time, if it depended on my ability to assimilate dirt into my regular diet?

As a child, death is a million years away. It’s not something kids think about, or factor into their life plans. I mean, sure, OLD people die. But not kids. Or so I thought. The years I’ve lived since those days would prove me sadly wrong on that hypothesis.

Now, I’m old. Just had another birthday, looked at the calendar, and yep … I’m old. Not old/old, not quite yet, but on a path that will inevitably lead to me being – old. And I’m good with that. Because I could rhyme off a list of people who’ve been on this long journey with me that didn’t make it to this age, and others who are praying they get to see their next birthday.

I know now that getting old is a gift that not everyone is assured of receiving.

Most of the time I don’t think about the future. I’m retired. I don’t need to work. I have a roof over my head, and people that love me. I’m luckier than a large portion of humanity in the year 2022.  

I don’t fear death, maybe because I don’t believe there’s anything after that final sleep – which, if I have a choice in the matter, would be my preferred way to go. For a brief while after I die, those that love or like me will experience a Roxanne-shaped hole in their world, but in time, that hole will fill up with all of the other minutiae of life. As it should.  

But now and again, like when I read things like this study that just came out, about how many books I can expect to read in my lifetime – well now – that hits home.

Literary Hub has done some calculations that took me aback. By taking stats from the Social Security Life Expectancy Calculator, and defining readers as “average” (people who read 12 books per year,)  “voracious” (50 books per year) OR “super readers” (80 books per year) they produced charts that predict how many more books you are likely to read in your lifetime.

You can check the link, (Literary Hub ) or crunch the numbers for yourself – in 2021, StatsCan noted that average life expectancy in Canada is 79.9 years for men and 84 years for women. I would consider myself an “extra super reader”, since I read well over 100 books a year.

I had to brace myself when I realized that I might only be able to read about 1500 books between this birthday and my final day. That means it’s time to cull the herd, in order to leave room for the books I really, really, really want to read.

Out with books I thought I should read, since they made some literary list. If a subject is not interesting, I have no time to develop an interest. Books that take over 100 pages to get to a starting point – gone. That 900-page romance that I might have enjoyed if I ever got to a beach – banished from the stack.  

Have you seen the stack? This is just one – there’s a second stack just like this in the other room. These are the unread books that I thought I might enjoy if I ever found some ‘spare time.’ Oh – and beyond the front line, is a second group of books. That’s right, these shelves are two rows deep.

And the stacks of unread books compete with the seven other tall bookcases filled with books that I’ve already read, and thought I might read again some day. I’m beginning to suspect that’s not in the cards.

The penny has well and truly dropped. Life is too short to suffer through a book you just don’t like, and it’s definitely too short to waste on reading that book that someone else thought you might like.

Even more, that same sensibility is now pushing me towards examining what else is extraneous in my life. How many more television series or videos do I have time to watch? How many winter coats do I really need? How many more of these columns will I write? Will I ever get around to the jewelry projects I’ve been putting off for – oh, it can’t really be 25 years since I took that course!

Social media can be a fun timewaster, but perhaps I could spend less time on there, and more in my garden! Flora and fauna don’t pick fights or talk back, and they’re prettier than most of the people who like to argue about nonsense on Facebook.

Rather than rely on other people’s definitions of how best to pare down for the inevitable, I will now define every item in my possession by the measurement of how much time we have left to spend together.

And, just to be safe … I think I’ll avoid eating any dirt. Wanna keep that peck down a quart.

1 Comment

  1. Kathleen says:

    There are no answers, only questions!

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