Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Yearly Summary

I'm not a good record keeper, but during the year I keep my expense ledger for taxes, track where I send manuscripts when, and try to make a note in the back of my diary of each book read, movie seen in a theater, and species of bird seen. I'm not sure what the point of the diary notes is, as I don't have great faith in my accuracy and if I want to remember the name and author of a book I have to skim backward through diaries puzzling over my own handwriting. If I had a serious purpose I'd put this stuff in a database. I think it's all there because the diary, inefficient as it is for record-keeping purposes, represents the years of my life more than anything else does. On New Year's Eve I make a tally, as a rough guide to what I was thinking and doing during the year.

In 2008, I read 219 books, saw 18 theater movies, got approximately 70 bird species, prepped 5 books for submission, and drafted one. In 2009, if I finish the book I started last evening, I will have read 205 books, prepped one book for submission, not quite finished researching one, gone to a whopping 5 movies, and seen - my goodness - about 180 species! That will never be a precise number because every major birding trip and some casual sightings will always have question marks next to them. I will never be the kind of birder (is there such a thing?) who is always positive in her identifications and can always make them; also, since I traveled a bit and kept trip lists, I might have accidentally counted some species more than once.

I've been accustomed for a long time to say that I read between 200 and 300 books a year, and while this is still technically true it's clear that I don't read as many books as I used too. That doesn't necessarily mean my reading time has diminished. The list deals only in books I read all the way through, so books which I've mined extensively as research but didn't read cover-to-cover, books I read half-way and got fed up with or couldn't face the foreshadowed climax, magazines, journals, comics(except in bound collections), blogs, and internet communications aren't counted. Also, looking further back in the diaries makes it clear that the drop-off began when I quit the soul-sucking dayjob and no longer had the reading time built into that (riding the bus back and forth; walking to and from the restroom; taking the stairs up to the office - my weight ballooned, too, till I took it in hand). Plus, all those trips - New York, Tulsa, 2 trips to Austin, Atlanta, and two trips to the coast. Only Atlanta and New York were plane trips, with all their hours of reading time. Car trips are better for getting birds than books (though you can stop impulsively at bookstores and buy more, since you have a back seat to put them into).

We're told it's not quantity, but quality that counts. I'm not at all sure that's true; certainly not in the American economy, in which the volume of mediocre product has more influence than the price of superior product in the overall health of a market. I've always been an indiscriminate reader, partly on the theory that you have to read a lot of crud to appreciate the good stuff, but mostly because I have a low tolerance for boredom and reading anything is better than traversing a concrete-lined stairwell four times a day with nothing to read. My family's reading, and consequent borrowing and buying, habits have a direct impact on the San Antonio library system and a wide range of retail outlets, and an indirect impact on the literary economy and hence on my own potential to make a living at my profession.

If you want a library in your community, check books out of it. If you want to sell books, buy them. If you want to write them, read them.

I'm not reading too much. I'm setting a good example.

Happy New Year, y'all.

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