My financial adviser informs me that I must die when I am 87 because I will run out of money at that point. So, assuming she is right, at two books a month I will read only 520 books more in my lifetime. Do I want to waste one of those precious allotments on an award-winning book that I find neither enjoyable nor enlightening? I do not.Like OGIC, my total is above 520 (assuming I'll live to 87, that's another 44 book reading years and at my usual rate of about 100 books/year, I'll get 4400 in). That's books, which doesn't include magazines and newspapers, which I also read in quantity.
My own expected number of books-yet-to-be-read is higher than 520. But that doesn't make it any less stark, wherever it may fall. This is why I want to know if Critic X didn't think a book was the best of the year as reputed, and why I don't want critics to pull their punches. It doesn't mean I implicitly trust any one critic's judgment (well, maybe Wood's, tried and true), but, like Marjorie, I do want as much varied input as possible, and I want critics to write with readers, not authors, in mind. The 2003 Booker showed me that awards committees can be every bit as fallible as critics; I hasten to add that the converse is also true. All we can ask of each is frank and searching judgment, and to please keep in mind the (shudder) 520.
Now, 4400 sounds impressive - and it probably would be if I could guarantee that each of those books would be "quality" books. But, as I've mentioned earlier, some books are just disappointing. I don't judge quality by pages, or by good reviews, nor do I restrict my reading to serious literature/non-fiction. Genre fiction (particularly a good mystery) is just fine with me. Earlier this year I was introduced to a good YA/fantasy writer by one of my students and now I'm eagerly collecting the author's works. To me, that's quality: a book or author that leaves you wanting more, that gives you "earworms".
Still, I'm left feeling that if I've only got another 4400 books to read, there should be some criteria that will allow me to avoid the disappointing ones and concentrate my efforts on the really good stuff. Unfortunately, even the best of critics/recommenders and I diverge on occasion (the Confederacy of Dunces incident still rankles!). I'm also left wondering what on Mt. Bookpile should be gifted (or regifted) without being read... and if there's a way to organize them in a "read this first" order.
If you have ideas or helpful hints, please pass them along. I'm all eyes.