In today's Guardian Review Colin Robinson, publisher, laments the never-ending production of the written word. Most writers, he says, think their words merit an audience but the majority of them are mistaken. And, with one estimate from Google putting the number of books in existence at 130 million, the proportion of writers to readers is getting ever more out of desirable balance. Possibly mindful of this being the silly season, Colin offers the following suggestion:
I would like to propose a writers' moratorium. What if everyone could be persuaded to stop scribbling for a period of, say, 12 months? Of course we would lose some marvellous work during The Year of Not Writing, and that's not to be taken lightly. But look at the compensations: we could all kick back, take stock, and get off the spinning carousel of keeping up with the latest offerings. Just think what could be done with the free time: books we've loved could be revisited; philosophy or poetry could be afforded the time they demand; tomes of previously forbidding length could be tackled with languorous leisure.
I'm here to tell Colin that, except for readers anxious to keep up with the very latest thing, his proposal wouldn't make a blind bit of difference. According to a calculation I did in 2009, even if you read four books a week, and so more than 200 books a year, throughout 70 years, you could only get through 0.008324477724 per cent of the total number of volumes in existence. A publishing moratorium of a single year isn't going to affect that significantly. So kick off your shoes and read just what you want to without worrying about the shortfall. You're doomed to miss most of what's there, whatever you do.