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75 Books a Year

September 13, 2004

Like neighbors across a fence, Peggy and Sally talked about books across the library desk. Here’s their conclusion:

“There are only so many books left in one’s life.”

Life’s too short to dwell on that. It’s a depressing measure. Peggy did the math: “If I read 75 books a year, then …”

Seventy-five? Suddenly, I was doubly depressed.

I don’t do this kind of accounting much. Estimating your life in books is as deflating as calculating the number of weeks you have left. If you’re a 50-year-old male, you’ve got about 28 years left, on average. Times 52, that leaves 1456 weeks to go.

That doesn’t sound like much to me. But counting books seems worse. If you average a book a month, you have about 336 books left. Choose wisely.

During your next dark night of the soul, will you revisit with regret the list of books you’ve read twice or more, forsaking all others?

Off the top of my head, I can toss off a list: Under the Tuscan Sun; Confessions of a Failed Southern Lady; Lying Awake; The Deptford Trilogy; Crying of Lot 49; Steinbeck; The Narrow Road to the Deep North, by Basho.

No regrets. But wait … what about movies seen more than once? ‘Fess up … how many times have you watched “Tremors”?

Movies are easy: Groundhog Day, Lost in Translation, Beetlejuice, Alien , The Terminator, The Bourne Identity, Psycho, The Birds, It’s a Wonderful Life, March of the Wooden Soldiers.

Those were picked at random. What a list it must be in total. And then there’s music: How many hours have you spent listening to the same song? “If I could save time in a bottle …”

What percentage of my life did I use playing Bach’s “Bouree in E Minor” again and again?

But wait … there’s all those moments spent ruminating on things of no ultimate consequence, over and over and over. To say nothing of the forgotten hours spent listening to automated telephone systems.

And then, they say we spend an absurd percentage of time thinking about sex. Men, anyway — which is foolish, since we already have less time on average than women.

There’s an infinity after One, if you want to count new integers forever, but there’s a different kind of infinity between One and Zero. We were born to repeat. Perhaps difficulties begin only with the impulse to measure.

To quote Wendell Berry again: “What are people for?” I don’t know, although playing a bouree is likely one of them.

But this column is actually about something else. You wonder: “How can I use my library time better?”

We will begin giving short classes about various library tools and resources — things you’ve wondered about as you lie awake at night wishing you’d read “Crime and Punishment” instead of all those Sue Grafton mysteries.

This month, we’ll have four sessions: two about searching the library’s online catalog and using online library resources from home; and two about using ReferenceUSA, an extensive database of business and residential information useful for marketing research, which I hope will help many small businesses.

For ReferenceUSA, the schedule is Tuesdays, September 21 at 12:15 and September 28 at 7:00 p.m.

For the library catalog and other resources, Wednesdays, September 22 at 12:15 and September 29 at 7:00 p.m.

The presentations will be brief — about a half hour. I know your time is short.

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