Having just finished a series of rather ‘heavy’ books – most recently Chantal Hebert’s French Kiss: Stephen Harper’s Blind Date with Quebec – I wasn’t up to yet another political, biographical, or military history book. It was time for a break, and so with the temperatures outside hovering around the 32C mark, it was off to the bookstore in search of some summer reading - a good page-turner. Robert Ludlum’s The Ambler Warning was on prominent display so the decision was easy and I’m now enjoying this classic Ludlum thriller. But that will only last a few days and then it will be back to the store to choose something else from the myriad titles available – truly a daunting task given the number of new books being published every year.
According to Bowker there were 375,000 English language books published in 2004 (http://www.bowker.com/press/bowker/2005_1012_bowker.htm). Of that number, approximately 18%, or 67,500 were “Adult fiction, poetry, drama and literary criticism”. With poetry, drama and literary criticism being, I assume, a small part of the total, let’s say that adult fiction accounts for 50,000 of those new titles. With a further assumption that fiction has, on average, a shelf life of two years, that means I will have 100,000 titles from which to choose a few books to keep me company on the dock this summer.
100,000 titles. Even if I had the time to read 2 books a week, I could, at best, read 100 books next year - 1/10th of one percent of the books that are available. Clearly the odds are stacked against me picking the best fiction out there so I will do what most of us would do, which is to go with what we know. It’s not unlike eating at MacDonald’s or staying at The Holiday Inn - it may not be 4-star, but you know what to expect. Ditto with the popular authors - Ludlum, Grisham, P.D. James, Follett, Crichton, et al. While the list of books published by these authors can still be somewhat overwhelming (and confusing when books are republished years later with different titles) it’s at least manageable.
So when I’m done with The Ambler Warning, I will return to the bookstore, head to the fiction section and look for authors I know. If, in the process, I happen to come across something by another author that looks interesting, I may pick it up, but that will be by chance only. A pity really, as I know I’m missing lots of good reading, but I’m also missing a lot more bad reading.
Life’s too short to waste on bad books, so we make our choices accordingly.