How to Read 291,000 Books Before You Die

I meant to post this on Monday evening, but my husband, dog and I held a dance contest to Touareg Rock n’ Roll music that took up the entire evening. So you get this on Tuesday instead.

I’m not guaranteeing you’ll read 291,000 books before you die (by the way, that’s the number of separate titles published per year in 2006), but this post does contain a few resources and strategies to find those books worth reading, versus those worth tossing against a wall – without spending too much money or time.

You don’t even need to have the same reading tastes as me to try it.

The Ideal

stack of books

I wish every book recommended to me, every novel I came across, every non-fiction resource I purchased, was the BEST thing I’ve ever read.

I wish every book made me think, “Oh boy was I lucky to buy it in the trade paperback version for $15 because I would have paid the publishing company $100 to read and own that book – those suckers. What a steal!”

The Reality

There are only so many books one person can buy and read before he or she goes bankrupt, or dies. Over 40,000 separate titles of fiction books were published in 2006 alone:


A lot of those books suck.

Maybe you can afford to buy books without worrying about price or quality, but I’m poor.

The $15 to $25 price tag per book makes me want to cry when I look at a stack of 5 books that I must immediately possess.

Even used book store prices become extravagant when I’ve gathered a stack of 12 books and I’m afraid to put any of them back. What if I don’t remember the title? What if I just re-shelved the BEST book ever to save 4 dollars?

But what if I buy that stack of books and then end up hating one, or two, or eight of them? I’ve spent good money on books I can’t return, and now feel obligated to slog through horrible stories.

Did I mention I’m an abibliophobic bookworm?

If you share a similar affliction, here are some tips on how to feed the addiction without wasting anymore time and money on a bad book.


Local public libraries receive a bad rap for a variety of reasons (no funding, few open hours, not enough books), but I’m impressed with Sacramento’s system. I can search through the online catalog and access books located in both California and Nevada. After I request it, the book is shipped to the library of my choice. In my case, a library less than 2 miles from my house. And it’s all free. And I can request up to 50 titles at a time.

With access to more than 9 million books, they fulfill more than 80% of my searches. Usually every book except for the ones published in the current year.

Did I say this was a FREE online service the library provides? See if your public library offers something similar (watch out for late fees).

Super Fast Library Lookup

With John Udell’s Library Lookup you can surf almost any website and use a bookmark to check if a book is available to reserve at your library of choice, without leaving the page. One window, one bookmark, one click of the mouse.

When I’m surfing Amazon and see a book that makes me want to hit that “Buy Now” button, I hit my customized bookmark and check it out from the library instead.

Make sure to check out John Udell’s Library Lookup. It’s revolutionary! (Ok, well, maybe not revolutionary, but it is a great time saver). Make sure to visit Blogging Basics 101 for helpful instructions on how to create this bookmark in both Internet Explorer and Firefox.

If your public library isn’t as cool as mine, try out It’s kind of like a database of library databases. Enter in your zip code to locate the book in the library nearest you.

I once searched for a specific out of print book on trophy hunting (research for writing Rhinoceros Summer). I couldn’t find it anywhere even though I knew it existed. I tried WorldCat and discovered one library in Tanzania was the only location known to keep that title on its shelves. This Tanzanian library does not offer an inter-library loan program with Sacramento, but I was still awestruck that WorldCat found that one copy.

Lists, Stacks and Databases, oh my!

I may reserve 50 books at time, but I rarely read them from cover to cover. Instead, I lay them out in stacks on the coffee table and begin my system of sifting, skimming and judging. I separate the books into two piles (“buy!” and “Stop! Don’t do it!”).

I record everything on two lists. I input the “to buy” books into my Amazon wishlist. I enter the others into a searchable Excel sheet so I don’t forget they were duds.

This helps me avoid the impulse purchase. It also calms my fears about being haunted by the-novel-that-got-away.

Bookworm Survivor

I have a finite number of years to read all the books worth reading. The above are just a few strategies I use to determine whether a book is worth skimming, tossing across the room, or buying to relish every word until the end – all without breaking the bank.

My one wish is for the library to allow more than 50 requests at a time. *sigh*

Note: I think it is important to purchase new books. The library is a great “first line of defense” to find those books and authors worth supporting.

What are your strategies? Any tips of your own to share?