How well read is anyone? What does well read even mean? Dictionary definitions suggest reading widely and having learned from that reading.
One view which caught my eye was that the definition hasn't changed much over the years, but that source material being read almost certainly has. Whilst well read has been assumed to mean books, that could properly be widened to cover newspapers, TED talks, online postings and the like, so long as one uses them to keep abreast of both current and past events and be able to use that knowledge logically in conversation.
In practical terms, I suspect it mostly comes down to comparing your reading history with that of others. 101 Books started his blog in order to read Time Magazine's 100 Greatest Novels after someone told him he was well read and he felt that he wasn't, or at least, not well enough. He's ruminates on whether the number of books read would be sufficient, countering that if you simply read one genre, or one author, you cannot meet the "widely read" aspect. Further that reading fiction alone cannot be enough, one would need to include examples of non-fiction for full roundness of reading.
So, what are we left with? Nothing but to compare ourselves to those lists produced by an individual, or group of individuals, and either find ourselves patted on the back or left feeling lacking.
I'm primarily a reader of contemporary fiction rather than works of classic fiction and so tend to "fail" on most outings of comparison. But, let's face it, the number of great books is huge, truly enormous. If piled up, they would be the equivalent of the Himalayas and how many of us would genuinely expect to be able to climb Everest?
I still check myself against lists, but that's mostly because I'm always on the look out for recommendations, for books I'd regret missing. It doesn't matter that the amount of books unread on my shelves added to those unstarted on my kindle are more than twice the number I've read in the past year. I even recently found a typed "to read" list in the back of an old filofax from 10 years ago and I've barely made a dent in it. All I can say is that if I end up sharing Christopher Hitchens' deathbed regret of so many books remaining unread, I'd feel my life had been an entirely satisfactory one.
But one list which really made me smile was this one (scroll down through the article for the quiz). The Strand Bookstore in New York ask their potential employees to take this 50 question test. There is - apparently - no pass score, it's solely to make the (very important) point that booksellers should know books.
My score? 24 - less than half and I've long read no less than a book a week. Nearly 60, I'm now too old to worry if I can be considered well read. Because, well, I've really enjoyed the journey and I plan to keep on doing so.
Lastly, my thanks to Book Riot for the epic Strand Bookstore quiz.
How do you feel about the term well read? Have you found any lists with rich pickings for the ever-growing TBR list?
The Old Shelter
Iain Kelly Writing
Bit 2 Read
A Back of the Envelope Calculation
No Love for Fatties
What are They
Petrichor and Clouds