Life's Too Short: How to Read the Right Books

Life's Too Short: How to Read the Right Books

Let’s say you’re in the top fifth percentile of avid readers, tearing through a book a week on average. With such literary gusto raising your sails, you might feel like the entire world is an open book to browse at your leisure. But in actuality, you will hardly scratch the surface of available human art and knowledge. Think about it like this: if you read one book a week for 40 years, that puts you at a little over 2,000 books total. Well, that’s not too shabby, right? Now consider this data point: there have been nearly 1,000 episodes of the Law & Order franchise broadcast on television. And few people have time to read a book a week. If you’re lucky, you might manage to read more books in your lifetime than there are episodes of Law & Order.


To take a less tongue-in-cheek tack, here is an illuminating statistic from The Library of Congress:

The Library of Congress is the largest library in the world, with more than 151.8 million items on approximately 838 miles of bookshelves. The collections include more than 34.5 million books and other print materials, 3.3 million recordings, 13.4 million photographs, 5.4 million maps, 6.5 million pieces of sheet music and 66.6 million manuscripts.

Current estimates peg the total number of books proper at over 22 million, with the LOC receiving 20,000 new items a day for cataloging. If you’re a genuine bookworm, knocking off 52 books a year, you might be able to finish 0.00000236% of the books in existence.

And very few people read 52 books a year. According to a 2007 AP survey, 73% of Americans reported reading a book in the previous year, with an average of 20.4 books per person, but a median of only 6.5.

Under this framework, every single book you read becomes an important choice. But with so many books out there, and more books published every year, how can you begin to parse out the books that will change your life from the books that will merely pass the time?

Jeffrey Brenzel, Dean of Undergraduate Admissions at Yale University and philosopher, has spent years considering this question. In Brenzel’s view, there are five criteria for determining if a book is a genuine classic worthy of your precious time.

Here’s a quick overview of Brenzel’s five marks of a true classic from his Floating University lecture:

Live on Monday: Does the US need one billion people?

What would happen if you tripled the US population? Join Matthew Yglesias and Charles Duhigg at 1pm ET on Monday, September 28.

‘Time is elastic’: Why time passes faster atop a mountain than at sea level

The idea of 'absolute time' is an illusion. Physics and subjective experience reveal why.

ESA
Surprising Science
  • Since Einstein posited his theory of general relativity, we've understood that gravity has the power to warp space and time.
  • This "time dilation" effect occurs even at small levels.
  • Outside of physics, we experience distortions in how we perceive time — sometimes to a startling extent.
Keep reading Show less

Learn innovation with 3-star Michelin chef Dominique Crenn

Dominique Crenn, the only female chef in America with three Michelin stars, joins Big Think Live.

Big Think LIVE

Having been exposed to mavericks in the French culinary world at a young age, three-star Michelin chef Dominique Crenn made it her mission to cook in a way that is not only delicious and elegant, but also expressive, memorable, and true to her experience.

Keep reading Show less

Universe works like a cosmological neural network, argues new paper

Controversial physics theory says reality around us behaves like a computer neural network.

Synapses in space.

Credit: sakkmesterke
Surprising Science
  • Physicist proposes that the universe behaves like an artificial neural network.
  • The scientist's new paper seeks to reconcile classical physics and quantum mechanics.
  • The theory claims that natural selection produces both atoms and "observers".
Keep reading Show less

We studied what happens when guys add their cats to their dating app profiles

43% of people think they can get a sense of someone's personality by their picture.

Photo by Luigi Pozzoli on Unsplash
Sex & Relationships

If you've used a dating app, you'll know the importance of choosing good profile pics.

Keep reading Show less
Coronavirus

Quarantine rule breakers in 17th-century Italy partied all night – and some clergy condemned the feasting

17th-century outbreaks of plague in Italy reveal both tensions between religious and public health authorities.

Scroll down to load more…
Quantcast