The reading list: 1. How many books?
There are perhaps three main questions to answer when creating Septivium’s reading list, a list of books to give someone a well-rounded education about everything:
- How many books do we need in order to cover “everything”?
- How do we choose what subjects are covered and in what proportions?
- How do we choose the books?
Today I’m going to look at the first of these. From this point on the haziness of my grand plan becomes apparent and I become increasingly grateful for any ideas from you…
I’ve pondered the question of “How many books do we need to learn about everything?” And you know what the answer is? It’s 96.
OK, there is no correct answer. You could read a single book for a reasonable overview. Or you could read a different book every day for the rest of your life and you’d keep finding gaps to fill in your knowledge.
But we need an answer even if there’s no single correct answer.
The first variable to set is how quickly readers should be expected to complete a book. We should be able to discuss books as we go, which means everyone reading at the same pace, like a book club. Which means we need to be realistic about how quickly books can be read. While some people could get through a few books a week others, with busy lives and/or slow reading speeds (that’s me), could take several months to finish a hefty volume.
I reckon that an aim of reading one book a month is reasonable. Some books will be shorter and easier than others but this seems like a manageable rate. It would require some commitment to keep up the pace but should also mean no one needs to disrupt their life too much to keep up. Also, tying the pace to a month is easy to remember: “The 25th already!? I’d better do some reading.”
Maybe there could be optional extra books for those speedy readers who find themselves twiddling their thumbs after a week.
So, this rate of a book a month has an effect on how many books will be in the entire list. Anyone starting the list should be able to imagine finishing it, and at twelve books a year I think that restricts the length a little — we don’t want people imagining the rest of their lives will be filled with this project.
To cut to the chase, here’s my current thinking. Based almost arbitrarily on reading about the septivium I thought that seven years, or a total of 96 books, would be a good total length.
I know, it sounds a lot doesn’t it. And maybe, as someone who took on an almost decade long project, I’ve gone too far. I think it would have to be broken into small chunks of maybe six months or a year each focused reasonably self-contained topics so that someone could say “This year I’m going to read twelve books on science.” Maybe by December they’ve had enough and that’s as far as they go, or they want to take a break for a bit. Fair enough. Or maybe they think “That was great, next year I’ll read about… history!”
So how does that sound? Seven lists of a dozen books each. Or maybe fourteen lists of six books each. Perhaps with optional extra books for the super keen. Learn about everything one small chunk at a time.