I am fighting an unwinnable battle. I will never be able to come close to reading all of the good science fiction out there, no way, no how.
My last two Wayward Time Traveler columns (here and here) on time-travel stories were followed by a list of comments recommending so many good-sounding books and stories that I want to read all of them. And my most recent appearance on the SF Signal podcast had six other people listing off great books and stories (and TV shows and movies) that I haven’t read and that I want to read. And there’s just no way that I can come close to reading it all. I like to think of myself as pretty well-read in science fiction (some might think I’ve read too much of the old and not enough of the new, but I do pretty good on each). And yet every time I come across these lists and recommendation, I feel completely inadequate. Heck, I still haven’t read all of the Hugo and Nebula-award winning novels.
The scary part of all of this is that I can see my science fiction read-limit closing in on me. What is the science fiction read-limit? It is the total amount of science fiction that I could reasonably imaging reading in my lifetime. And it is frightening just how small it is.
Many years ago, I wrote briefly on how sad it was that I might only ever read about 2,500 books in my life time. Of that number, science fiction is but a subset. I once read somewhere that Thomas Jefferson read something like 10,000 books in his lifetime. Since 1996, I’ve completed 453 books, not counting what I am actively reading now. How on Earth did Jefferson read 10,000, that’s what I want to know.
Consider what I read each week:
- Half an issue of Astounding.
- 3-4 manuscripts for writers group
- A story or two from the SF magazines (Analog, Asimov’s, etc.)
- Whatever I can squeeze in of Scientific American and New Scientist
- Whatever book I happen to be reading (at present, A Clash of Kings by George R. R. Martin)
It’s a pretty eclectic selection, a good mix of short fiction, long fiction, nonfiction, as well as some stuff that pertains directly to my writing. And it’s not nearly enough to be as well-rounded in science fiction as I would like to be. I mean, how much could I possibly read given all the other reading I do, to say nothing of writing, of the day job, of spending time with family? It’s a sad state of affairs, but one I just have to live with, I suppose.
I’d be curious to know where your read-limits are? What is your saturation point? How do you deal with knowing you can’t read everything? And how does this influence what you choose to read next?