“How many books do you have?”
My mom asked me this question last week when we’re moving my things from my room before its renovation. I could have just responded by saying something like a guess-timate and be done with it, but when it comes to quantification, I have an unhealthy obsession with statistically accurate figures. It matters to me that I currently have 9,071 songs by 2,031 artists (according to Winamp) in my music library or that 1 in every 7 person is an active Facebook user. I have decided that this would be the right time for me to take a look at my library to study my reading habits.
It’s very convenient that I keep an Excel database containing some information about my books, and in its absence, I could have just as easily built one. It was very handy because I keep a copy in my phone and sometimes I do some lookups from it when browsing at bookstores.1 Sadly, it’s my best source, even though it doesn’t contain a lot of data from my original collection. The original file got lost a few years back due to those rare computer slip-ups resulting in tragic loss of essential personal data, such as accidentally reformatting the wrong hard disk, selecting the wrong option when installing a new OS, dropping my sole backup external hard disk or accidentally pressing Shift+Delete on the wrong folder. It almost felt like being heartbroken when it happened, resulting in severe depression and taking a long period of time before I can move on, or gain inspiration for the painful rebuilding of the lost data from scratch.
Compared to the original file, I don’t have a lot of fields in the file. Titles and authors are obligatory, but for the other fields, I settled for the publisher, genre, year of publication (for that edition, not the first printing) and finally, the number of pages (which is my way of measuring the thickness of the book). On a special note, I didn’t use genre for the sake of classification, but merely for the sorting of the books, for the purpose of putting the books into specific groups that are distinguishable from each other. That’s why I made up a genre called Gen. Fiction, which applies to books that are too hard to classify. Most of the books from John Grisham, Sidney Sheldon or John Irving fall under this genre. I also separated Horror from Suspense, because even though they both rely on the same feeling (fear), they differ heavily in the agent involved: supernatural/extraordinary versus real people/psychos. The difference can be seen between two books by Stephen King: ‘Salem’s Lot and Rose Madder, for instance. I also made up another genre called Adventure, which applies to stories that involves quests or journeying for a purpose. Coelho’s The Alchemist falls into this genre, as well as Watership Down and the Amelia Peabody novels. I had second thoughts including the Dan Brown novels here (Angels & Demons and The Da Vinci Code) but I eventually omitted them from the group and included them in the Action genre. The rest of the genres are mostly self-explanatory.
One of the missing fields is Date Added, which should have been included to keep track of my buying habits on a yearly basis. I’ll prolly add this in the future and I’ll just rely on memory to fill the info needed. I will also add Status eventually, containing either Read, Started or Untouched.
Working in Excel is a piece of cake. I was pleasantly surprised by the total number of books I had right now: 397.2 It speaks a lot about the volume of books I lost or lent to others.3 I decided to work only on the genre, year of publication and number of pages. I just used COUNTIF (and COUNTIFS too) to get the counts, then build charts out of them.
Ironically, majority of my books were unclassifiable. I was also surprised that I had more mystery books than horror. It’s probably because I had a lot of Tony Hillerman and P.D. James novels, outnumbering books by Stephen King and Dean Koontz (whose work were divided into horror or suspense novels).
II. Year of Publication
It was also surprising that I was very much a 90’s reader. That’s probably because I had a tendency to purchase older titles in place of more current ones. I also don’t mind waiting two or three years before buying a recent book, since by that time, the book would have dropped down in price. However, I recently got into buying more current books, and the five books from 2010 and beyond were the four A Song of Ice and Fire novels (which aren’t actually bought but was actually received as a gift) and one novel from David Baldacci. I’m expecting an increase in that before the year ends.
III. Number of Pages
Lastly, my data fits my assumption of having most of my books having between 300 to 600 pages. It’s my ideal length, since I can usually finish them in a week. I wasn’t intimidated by thick books, however, and I suspect I have already read most of the books containing more than 600 pages (we’ll soon find out). And I was actually surprised I had about a dozen books with more than a thousand pages.
Having mentioned it, I think I have found one of the reasons why I got this unusual preference for Windows devices. I’m spoiled with the mobile versions of Office: Word and Excel (and Powerpoint). Sure, there are always alternatives on other platforms, but that doesn’t mean that they’re equal.
My guess is 500. I was short by a hundred books.
I can vaguely recall having about 800 in book counts in the old dbase. And it’s about just right since I can recall also that I had two large boxes containing the books that I was unable to bring home at a former boarding house. 😦