When Bacon wrote his dictum about books there were so few that you could not be over-powered by their number. Now more than ever we are over-whelmed by writing and his dictum has become much more significant.
Now we have to distinguish the mundane from the profound, we have to distinguish the books that have an impact on the reader from the general background noise. Not only are some books more significant, but they also take on a life of their own, moulding the experiences and beliefs of the reader. Each book has its own time, it has order and it has age.
I keep a list of all of the books that I have read so that I can try and unpick the influences that they have on me. Now I have realised that just knowing what I have read is not enough. I need to know when I read it and in what order. For the last three years I have kept an ordered list, and pushed my reading to 50 books a year.
For example I read Brave New World in my 30s and for me it was a profound book because it struck a chord with my age, my experiences and the world in which I lived, but I doubt that the experiences of anyone else would put it into the same context. Reflecting on it, I think it is a book that is more likely to resonate with older readers with a wider range of experiences and I think that I would have appreciated it less if I had read it as a teenager. The same is true of Borges, Labyrinths. Now for me it is an amazing book, but I do not think I would have grasped its many different layers and themes if I had read it in my teens or 20s. Reading it later I find that it has so many hidden ideas that make it a greater work of thought than many works of philosophy.