Five years ago, when I became a man, it struck me as an interesting exercise to keep a record of every book I read and every movie I watched from my 18th birthday* onward. I don’t know how the idea occurred to me. I had followed my big brother’s lead in keeping movie ticket stubs for most of high school, and that meticulosity had paid off when it helped me win an argument with a girlfriend about who got to pick the movies we went to see. Mostly, I think I just saw the adulthood pivot of the 18th birthday* as significant enough to merit the construction of some kind of monument, and a monument to all the major ideas and stories I consumed as a man seemed as good as any.
Along the way, I also experimented with tracking my attendance at plays and concerts, or my completion of seasons of TV shows. These spurs were all dead-ends, though. I just ended up being uninterested in the results, and I went to too few performances to get in the habit of recording that data consistently.
In the five years since I turned 18, I have finished 146 books and watched 205 movies. This means that, on average, I finish one book every 12.5 days and I watch a movie every 9 days. The only year that I read more books than I watched movies was 2010, which I credit to the “52 in 52” challenge.
2009 (Jul 15 - Dec 31)
- 19 books. The year of classics: the Iliad, the Odyssey, Plato’s Republic, and the Bible.
- 44 movies.
- 52 books. In 2010, my sisters and I participated in the “52 in 52” challenge, reading a book each week of the year.
- 31 movies.
- 26 books. In 2011, I completed my own “4 in 4” challenge, reading a book of over 1000 pages for each season of the year. My four books were Boneby Jeff Smith, Les Miserables by Victor Hugo, The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien, and The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins.
- 29 movies. I also watched ten seasons of TV in 2011—during study abroad, I read a lot of books, but I also OD’d on screen time.
- 19 books. In 2012, I intended to complete a somewhat ill-defined “12 in 12” challenge, but a brutal January in which I finished no books put that plan to rest with alacrity.
- 39 movies.
- 19 books. In 2013, I started using a spreadsheet instead of a word document, and I started tracking start and completion dates of books, along with page counts. The average book in 2013 was 281 pages and took me 44 days to read from start to finish.
- 48 movies.
2014 (Jan 1 - Jul 15)
- 11 books. The average book in 2014 was 268 pages and took me 30 days to read from start to finish.
- 14 movies. Marriage has shifted me away from movie-watching and toward TV series.
My takeaway from all these data is that reading can easily fall through the cracks if I don’t have intentional challenges to keep me on pace with it. As I finish up 2014, my goal is to fix my ratio for the first time since 2010: I want to read more books than I watch movies. Fortunately, I’m not that far behind!
*Strictly speaking, it was on my 19th birthday that I turned 18 years old, since on my first birthday I was a newborn of zero years old. Fighting this semantic crusade has never seemed worthwhile enough to alter my own speech and composition, but it’s my 24th birthday dangit and I’m going to point it out.