Sunday, May 8, 2011

The book review

This morning I gave the New York Times Book Review a quick and purposeful look, ignoring all but the page counts of the books reviewed. My estimates were 2700 pages of non-fiction (memoir, history, economics, etc.) and 1200 of fiction, not counting the crime fiction that gets lumped together in one column. It seems to me that the fiction count is lower than usual, for there are novelists of varying quality who run to 500 pages in their usual novel. Review a couple of those one week, and you're up around 2000 pages of fiction.

This really doesn't matter to me, for there is very little chance that I'll read most of these books. Yet I find it interesting to compare the page counts with what I guess my rate of reading to be. For non-fiction of any complexity, I might read 100 pages a week at the high end, say fairly academic history, maybe 60 for philosophy. Serious fiction I might read at 200 or 300 pages per week. Of course, all these rates are subject to reduction owing to house projects such as painting or planting, work emergencies, travel, and so on.

So were I to read every book reviewed in today's issue, it would likely take me half a year, in which time the NY Times will brought out another 25 or so book reviews, call it another 12 years worth of reading. (And this omits the difficulty of picking a half year that does not include either a summer beach reading or a holiday books issue, either of which is much larger than the usual.)

In his autobiography, Trollope writes

"And readers will also find that by devoting an hour or two on Saturday to the criticisms of the week, they will enable themselves to have an opinion about the books of the day. The knowledge so acquired will not be great, nor will that little be lasting; but it adds something to the pleasure of life to be able to talk on subjects of which others are speaking; and the man who has sedulously gone through the literary notices in the Spectator and the Saturday may perhaps be justified in thinking himself as well able to talk about the new book as his friend who has bought that new book on the tapis, and who, not improbably, obtained his information from the same source."

I guess that's it.

No comments:

Post a Comment