There are all kinds of “how many” questions it’s fun to ponder when it comes to books:
- How many books have ever been published, in all of history?
- How many really good books are there? (What does this mean?)
- How many books exist that I should read? (What does this mean?)
- How many books exist that everyone should read? (What does this mean?)
Many of these are impossible questions, infinite questions, and that’s part of the fun. Some initial speculations, within an order of magnitude or two:
- I’d guess there are something like 100 million books ever published
- I’d guess perhaps 100 thousand of these are books we might qualify as really good
- I’d guess for any given person, we might identify at least 1 thousand books they “should” read
- 10 thousand is probably a rough upper limit of books to read in one lifetime
- 1 million might be an upper limit of books one person could reasonably be familiar with
For all extant books — humanity’s collective backlist — how does it break down by language? By historical era?
What fraction of such books have been translated, and into which languages, and how have these proportions shifted over time?
What does it mean for a book to be really good? Great? Timeless?
How many books are in our antilibraries by choice or by happenstance? How many books are in our antilibraries because they can’t not be — books only published in languages we don’t speak; books that have been destroyed; books that were planned but never written?
What “how many books…” questions do you find interesting? Any tentative answers to proffer, or novel hypotheticals to add to the catalog?