# HIT & RUN BLOG

## Ninety-Nine Books on the Walls?

A few weeks ago, responding to President Obama's suggestion that primary and secondary education could be improved by extending the school day and/or year, I mentioned that my 5-year-old daughter's elementary school has her for seven hours a day but still gives her homework. Several commenters agreed that homework in kindergarten is excessive, while others thought there are sound pedagogical reasons for it. I confess that the homework generally does not take much time, but sometimes it's very annoying. Right now, for instance, my daughter is learning how to count things with tally marks and convert the marks to numerals. Her first three assignments were pretty straightforward: She had to count all the doors, all the windows, and all the shoes in our house. But we didn't know what to do with the latest assignment: "Count the books in your house." The answer space allows only a two-digit number, so anyone with more than 99 books is out of luck. As we discovered, there are a few hundred books in my daughter's bedroom and several thousand in the house.

The assignment, which was copied from a worksheet book and therefore presumably is used at many other schools, seemed obviously unreasonable to me. Not only doesn't the answer fit in the space allotted (where you're supposed to put the number of tally-set pairs in the "tens" box and the number of remaining tally marks in the "ones" box), but the only practical way to complete the worksheet is to count the books on every shelf, add them all together, and translate the resulting total into tally marks—the opposite of what you're supposed to do. Fitting all those tiny tally marks into the rectangle on the page is difficult for an adult, let alone a 5-year-old. And what sort of message are schools sending about the value of reading when they assume no one will have more than two or three shelves of books?

Upon reflection, however, I had no idea how many books the typical American household has. (I didn't even know how many we had until we counted them.) Could it be reasonable to expect no more than 99? The answer is surprisingly hard to find. Data from the 2000 National Survey on Childhood Health indicate an average of 83 children's books in white households (the corresponding numbers for black and Hispanic households were 41 and 33, respectively). I assume adults would tend to have more books than children (although maybe I'm wrong about that), in which case the average would be well above 100. In 2005, according to the Book Industry Study Group, 3.1 billion books were sold in the U.S., about 28 per household. Even allowing for institutional use and books sold, given away, or thrown out after the initial purchase, wouldn't more than 100 accumulate in the average household over, say, a decade? If you have information that would illuminate the issue, let me know in the comments. Also feel free to share your frustrating homework stories.

Jacob Sullum is a senior editor at Reason magazine and a nationally syndicated columnist.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

• ||

The answer space allows only a two-digit number, so anyone with more than 99 books is out of luck.

What would her teacher say if she used scientific notation?

• ||

Sounds like a good time to introduce the concept of "fudging the facts for the sake of efficiency" to your child.

• ||

Jacob, you are missing the point of the assingment. Teachers are snooping around your house trying to figure out how much brainwashing your kid is going to need. The best answer is NOYB.

• ||

I have several thousand books in my house, easily. Most are mine, though the kids have a couple of hundred. Which is why I need that Kindle 2! ☺

Much of the homework my kids do seems reasonable enough, though you can sometimes see that it's heavily targeted at standardized testing, which is sometimes troubling. The quantity of work seems pretty high once they get into middle school, which I think is a product of wanting to add more "structure" to the kids' lives. Whatever that means.

• ||

In fact just minutes ago I helped my five year old complete some addition homework. We were supposed to make up a story about two queers joining three sissy soccer playing Europeans.

• Suki||

She had to count all the doors, all the windows, and all the shoes in our house.

Another reason why I have no desire to have offspring. That last item in the quoted list would result in your book issue at my place. Kinda happy beloved boyfriend does not have issues with that! Well, that might have prevented boyfriend from getting that title too.

A household disaster resulted in the destruction of most of my paper books (of course my shoes survived! all of them).

But, wasn't the assignment to make all of the little marks and scores first before converting to whole numbers? You state this backwards.

I suggest supplying a seprate sheet, like you probably do with your resume.

• Jerry||

• Suki||

In fact just minutes ago I helped my five year old complete some addition homework. We were supposed to make up a story about two queers joining three sissy soccer playing Europeans.

Did the girls win the rumble after the match?

• ||

What a stupid post:

1) Wow -- you mean that you (or your daughter) are so inflexible that you HAVE to do everything on the provided worksheet instead of, I don't know, showing some initiative and using a separate piece of paper? Really? Do you honestly think the point of the exercise is to fit tally marks into rectangles . . . ?

2) Wow look at me -- I have soooo many books, I'm a good parent.

I'm afraid that -- depressingly -- you will find that many households do have fewer than 100 books in the house.

• hmm||

Look up bob. There goes the point.

• Reinmoose||

Who needs books once you give me that Kindle 2...

• hmm||

My wife and I own well over 100 books and have no children. We give them away all the time as well so we don't have them for the sake of just having them after they are read. That is unless they have some reference value.

• LarryA||

Upon reflection, however, I had no idea how many books the typical American household has.

I doubt there is a "typical" household for this. My two daughters grew up in the same home. The eldest has full bookshelves all over her house, and would want to know if she should include the boxes in her storage shed. This is despite aggressively recycling paperbacks back to used book stores.

My other daughter may have half a dozen books total. She's an extrovert who spends all her available time talking with people.

You'd do better to look for an average, but that wouldn't be terribly informative.

What's with the tally marks? That's what fingers are for.

BTW, it could be worse. Back in the day a teacher asked my eldest to make up her own things to count. I had to explain to her why we weren't going to tell Teacher how many guns Daddy owned. And we weren't going to tell Mommy, either.

• Suki||

Anybody know of a good, free, tutorial on formatting books for Kindle and Kindle2? That is where my friend wants to publish (Amazon) and he still keeps asking me about it.

• ||

I'm not counting my books. Guesstimate 500. I give away most paperbacks when I'm done too.

• Taktix®||

Sadly, my book collection is rather anemic. I've owned and read lots of books, but I've often had to sell them to the bookstore when I got broke in college (which was a lot).

So now I have around 50 or so... :(

• ||

Reinmoose,

Joke? My need for the Kindle 2 prize is no joke.

hmm,

I'm a major re-reader, so letting the books go is hard. I also love having reference books and histories on hand, which is a big chunk of the overall collection.

• ||

Use a rational base system and enter 99 in every field.

So, if you have 1234 books in your house, you solve the linear equation:

9*b^1 + 9*b^0=1234 => b=1225/9

and state that the answer is in base 1225/9, instead of base 10.

• Suki||

Jacob,

You could note the number of books with a variable and define the variable on the back of the page, or at the bottom if you are really that anal.

• Kilroy||

I think you're all over-thinking this. Rather than a societal trend to assume that there are fewer than 100 books in each house, and normalizing that low expectation, there was probably just some intern who was coming up with content for the pre-designed worksheet (that allowed for only two digits) and thought "Hmm, what can we count?" then noticed a couple books sitting on the shelf and decided to add "books" without another thought. Then, the approvers probably couldn't be bothered to actually read what they were approving, so it made it into your daughter's homework. Occam's Razor.

• Reinmoose||

I don't even like books. Yeah, I said it!

I read from time to time, but I find a large majority of books to be a giant waste of time. When I do read one I like, I keep it.

That being said, I probably have more than 100 books (although I just got rid of a bunch cause I moved, and some of them are reference books)

• ||

I've never actually counted, but the last time I moved the books came to at least six hundred pounds. (Lots are hardbacks, which skews the per book average a little.) I'm a single twenty-something, so they're mine... all mine! [cue maniacal laughter]

• Suki||

Reinmoose,

Wah? UGH! Wha? ummmm

• ||

I've moved too many times to have thousands of books. My guess is that the number in my house is in the low hundreds.

I know far too many people that don't have books. The reason they don't have books, is because they don't read books. Not that they don't have any reading material. Sports Illustrated, Guinness Book of Wold Records, etc.

It's all very depressing.

Jacob,
I don't understand your ire. Seems like a great opportunity to introduce more advanced methods of counting. But more to the point this is a great example of the establishment not functioning. A great lesson for your daughter.

This assignment can't be done the way the teacher expected because we have too many books. So we'll do the assignment the way it should be done instead of how the instructions read. Now, your teacher is a mindless automaton doing the bidding of Big Brother, so you can expect her to give you some shit over this. Don't let her....

BTW What is your 5 year old who is just learning how to count, doing with hundreds of books?

• Reinmoose||

I'm picky, Suki, what can I say?

I'm not so much of a plot guy as an execution guy, and I just don't find that many books to be that interestingly executed, or rather I don't want to waste my time trying to find the good ones. That's why I have a policy of allowing each of my friends 2 strikes. If they recommend two books and I don't like either of them, I will never listen to them again.

I like informational books, too. Nonfiction, but not biographies.

• Taktix®||

Then, the approvers probably couldn't be bothered to actually read what they were approving, so it made it into your daughter's homework.

Anyone know where I can apply for a job as one of these "approver" people? Sound like a great position...

• Kilroy||

That particular job is available at just about any mid-to-large company or government entity. It's typically referred to as "management". Granted there are a few wonderful exceptions out there, but they're still exceptions.

• Suki||

If they recommend two books and I don't like either of them, I will never listen to them again.

I have a similar rule, but I just stop listening to them about books and/or movies, not other topics.

• Reinmoose||

Har har. Yes, just about books.

• Suki||

Reinmoose,

A big, distinguished, sexy, well read moose like you should be a bit more clear to a simple girl like me, dontchathink?

• ||

I have more than a 99 Philip K. Dick books.

In fact [checks nerdy home library catalog], I have 158. And [checks again] we have 3562 total in the entire house.

And 0 kids.

• Suki||

Why are we troll-free during the Reason live event in DC?

• ||

I suspect the averages are misleading. Some large percentage of people just don't read books. Another big chunk might read a few every year. Neither group is attached to books, and thus likely to get rid of them before they accumulate. Then there are regular readers of things like romances and mysteries, who may go through large numbers but often don't save them. Then there are the real book types, who always have too many because they love buying them and reading them and just owning them.

100 books is about four shelves worth, and it may be an average yet not actually common: most people have fewer, but there are enough people with far more to bring the average up.

SugarFree: You must have multiple editions of the same books, because his total number of novels and story collections isn't half that number (IIRC).

• Right Wing Realist||

This racist newsletter will be brought up if you ever run for office.

• ||

PapayaSF,

Yep, multiples of US and UK editions and a smattering of French, Spanish, and Japanese.

I'm in the process of donating my duplicative editions to the Merill Collection in Toronto and I've made arrangements to donate and endow my entire collection upon my death. (We archivists think ahead.) Working there is my dream job, but they don't have many employees and a very slow overturn, so it will likely never happen. Cool place to visit though, and very researcher friendly.

• ||

5318 books in the house - not counting library books, which come and go.

When I paid my daughter (last summer) to catalog them using Delicious Library (Mac), she complained that some of the books didn't have bar codes. I smiled, and showed her how to enter the ISBN numbers, and then told her that some of the books didn't have ISBN numbers, either. ;-)

• ||

I would venture to say that most of the houses I've been in have fewer than 100 books in them. I find that even people who read don't tend to accumulate a lot of books.

Of course, we have thousands, so we throw off the curve.

• Dello||

You could use this moment to teach her how to count one shelf of books, then multiply by the number of shelves, thus creating a loose "average". Regardless of what number you use to complete the homework (I would use 3, just to be a dick), you'll have taught your daughter a skill WELL beyond what the homework intended.

You'll also have taught her that in stupid stuff, exact doesn't really matter.

• Tippy||

"The answer space allows only a two-digit number, so anyone with more than 99 books is out of luck. As we discovered, there are a few hundred books in my daughter's bedroom and several thousand in the house."

Well aren't you the shit?

Got any TV's?

• ||

As we discovered, there are a few hundred books in my daughter's bedroom and several thousand in the house.

Unmutual!

• ||

p.s. Two digits in hexadecimal still leaves you at a max of 0xFF books.

• ||

Jacob, you are a bright well read guy-but have you really read every one of those thousands of books?

• Tippy||

"National Survey on Childhood Health indicate an average of 83 children's books in white households (the corresponding numbers for black and Hispanic households were 41 and 33, respectively)"

• ||

Brandybuck-

The Sweet Sixteen was last week.

• ||

They're asking the kids to count up the books so that the firemen will know if they've got them all.

-jcr

• ||

@Reinmoose
I rarely read books anymore. Was originally a voracious reader, starting at about age three. Read everything. Everything. Zillions of books. All genres, all subjects. Did so until my mid-thirties. I think it was "The Sound and the Fury" that caused me to finally give it up. I just thought -- this is all bullshit.

• ||

I neiver reed boks. I aint got eny.

• ||

"I neiver reed boks. I aint got eny."

Idiot. It's ain't.

• new guy here||

My wife and I own well over 100 books and have no children. We give them away all the time

Libertarians give away their children?

99 volumes of books on the wall
99 volumes of books
Take one down, pass it around
98 bottles of books on the wall

98 volumes of books on the wall
98 volumes of books
Take one down, pass it around
97 bottles of books on the wall

97 volumes of books on the wall
97 volumes of books
Take one down, pass it around
96 bottles of books on the wall

• well played,||

fng

Oops, I said bottles, not books. That part is only for the second-graders.

• Suki||

You could use this moment to teach her how to count one shelf of books, then multiply by the number of shelves, thus creating a loose "average" "approximation".

The words in the Maths are important too.

• robc||

Rough estimate at 300.

I counted one shelf and multiplied and then guessed another hundredish scattered around the house.

not all that new; that was my persona du post.

grata all the same, though

• not the real jb||

I sent my son to private preschool and found the homework to be very meaningful. Then he went to public kindergarten and brought home mainly useless worksheets. His first grade teacher refused to assign homework at all.

We realized that even the busy work he brought home in kindergarten was good because it told us what he was doing in school and allowed us to coordinate our activities around his studies. "Oh, you're studying fish, huh? Let's go to the aquarium this weekend."

I brought this up at the first grade parent-teacher conference (with the teacher who refused to assign homework) and it was as if I was speaking Swahili to his teacher. She really couldn't understand that a parent would do that.

On the tallies-to-numerals, etc. I bet the concept they're supposed to learn is that numerals and other notations are simply symbols that represent quantities. Many states have elementary math standards to that effect. But I bet the teacher is simply trying to mimic what he/she saw on last year's state tests.

So on this year's test, the state will probably operationalize the standard another way and your child - along with most of her classmates - will fail that section. Then the teachers will complain to the union who will complain to the local media that the tests aren't testing *real* critical thinking...

• ||

I was very angry when our oldest daughter started kindergarten and she had homework every night. I felt the school was encroaching on our family time. The homework was to read some pathetic book that was way below her reading level. It cut into our bedtime reading, which I felt was far more useful to her development than the junk she brought home. It will only get worse for kids and parents as we're seeing a big push for extended school days and longer school years. If there's a perceived problem, the answer is always more school!

Regarding stats on book ownership, you might find some of Krashen's work a good jumping off point--he writes extensively about the significance of access to compelling reading material to school performance. http://www.sdkrashen.com/.

• Suki||

I hope I tell this right. Beloved Boyfriend's son had some sort of math homework when the son was about 12.

Beloved began attempting to instruct son on simultanious equations (my drunk spelling looks bad, please forgive) His sister interrupted with some nonsense that did not apply. Beloved cranked up laptop to do it in a spreadsheet.

Result, Son of Beloved stopped asking for homework help and began doing it himself.

Longer result? Son of Beloved is a successful working man continuing advanced education.

• ||

I tend to buy all sorts of interesting non-fiction books from the bargain racks and they collect dust while I watch NatGeo, Discovery, and the Travel Channel.

I keep telling myself that I'd read them all if I didn't have to work, but I don't think I really would...maybe on the plane as I hop around the world.

• jester||

Speaking of books, does anyone have a copy of "A Hundred Women I'd Like to Pork"? I've been looking for it. Someone even said it doesn't exist. What's up with that?

• jester||

Sugarfree,

I too have genres that surpass 99. My guess is that peeps with kids read less.

Just sayin'.

• up with that||

"A Hundred"

De minimus not curat liber.

• Suki||

Speaking of books, does anyone have a copy of "A Hundred Women I'd Like to Pork"? I've been looking for it. Someone even said it doesn't exist. What's up with that?

Wasn't that from the Sally fake orgasm movie with Billy Crystal?

• ||

Love the "See how many books" I've read narcissism on this thread. Libertarians are hilarious.

• ¢||

At any site, any "I'm just too atypical to fit in your boxes, man" thread looks just like this.

Libertarians are typical.

• jester||

train,
it isn't narcissim in this case, it's more of a connection with our fellow libertarians. Yes we probably read more than the rest and our book collections prove that. It took this blog to ignite this thread. There is no hilariousness. You might think so because a Libertarian has as many books as say an apartment occupied by Woody Allen in one of his movies.

Woody Allen is narcissistic but definitely a well-read intellectual. Although I disagree with his world-view, I am not opposed to viewing his movies and getting a chuckle out of them.

Train, you're a derailment waiting to happen.

• Tim||

Jacob, I don't think the collection of Juggs under your bed count as "books" and you probably shouldn't be counting them your daughter.

• ||

Wrong answer America.......Ive thousands. All hardback.

• Suki||

Jacob,

After reflection I find the shoe answer suspect. Is your 5 yr. old the only lady in the house?

If yes, when will you stop abusing her?

If no, what is with the shoe answer?

• GAC||

During our last move, the people who packed up our house were not the same who shipped and unpacked. While being unpacked, the first thing the movers came across were the bookshelves. It was funny watching the expressions on their face go from mild concern to fear to utter despair as they came across the 12-15 full size, 5 shelf bookshelves. One of the movers asked if they shelves were full of books, and if so, were they shipped.

I know enough German to recognize the cussing when he got his answer...

• Ben||

Here's our library (still under construction), with 363 linear feet of (full) bookshelves:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/fyngyrz/sets/72157600961729007/

Plus the books in my martial arts studio, about eight linear feet:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/fyngyrz/2945511123/

And four more shelves in the music studio for 12 linear feet. If music books count. I kinda think they should, though.

383 linear feet in total. I don't know how many books, but it's a lot. I keep telling myself I should put them in a database, but... it's a lot. :o)

If a school tried to assign the task of enumerating them to my kid, I would give the kid a note, with a picture of our library attached, explaining that this task is not to be assigned until the kid finishes a course in statistics. In addition, I'd have the kid count the number of guitars in the house and supply that with tally marks, etc. That at least definitely requires only two decimal digits. :o)

Oh, and another thing... we're starting to accumulate e-books. Those should count too, yes?

• ||

Ben,

Linear feet is how libraries do it. Archives and museums usually use cubic feet. Once we went full nerd and started using cataloging software, we have taken a linear feet count in a few years.

• Abdul||

Jacob,

I don't know if you've seen this before, but studies have shown that homework for elementary students is near useless.

People write whole books about this if you're interested. But with all those other books in your house, you may not get to them.

• jtuf||

The discovery approach to leaning math is back in style. That's why the author of the your daughter's workbook designed such a round about way to count the books. The last couple of books I edited also used the discovery approach. Unfortunately, instead of teaching formal mathematical proofs, most discovery texts just end up making students complete tasks in a round about way. That way the teachers, who probably don't know how to write a two column proof, can hold up the lessons and brag about how creative the counting method is. It makes about as much sense as walking to work backwards so that you can explore new avenues of transportation.

• ||

My den smells of bound leather

• ||

thousands of books? I guess if you read for a living that is normal, but even 1000 books is 3 straight years of reading, assuming a book a day. Are we throwing in One Fish Two Fish here or do you folks really read thousands of 500 page books?

• GAC||

I have no idea how many books I have (probably around 1500 or so), and I have read every single one of them. But I've also been gathering the collection for about 20 years now, and I NEVER let anyone borrow a book (I'll buy them a copy if I really liked it, but they can't have mine!)

Granted, a good number of those are history books from when I was working on my MA, and it wasn't uncommon for me to read 10-15 books a week.

• ||

Since I moved last year, I purged about 500 books from my collection. It's not like I'm going to read the again. Now that I have a kindle, my rate of new book acquisition has dropped off completely. This assignment will be obsolete in 10 years (count the number of horses in your stable)

• B||

I'm sure that the "average" number of books in the American household is a meaningless statistic...I seriously doubt that it is normally distributed.

• ||

When I took standardized state tests in Jr High and High School during the 90's the same question was included. The fill-in-the-bubble choices were given in ranges:
1-10
11-25
25-49
50 or more

I always thought those ranges were sadly small, as I personally had about 100 books in my room at any given time. I would have had even more if there had been space for more bookshelves. (Or if Mom & Dad let me take over their shelves in the living room.)
As an adult with my own house I still have to limit my collection to about 2000 due to space concerns.

• ||

Canadian govt calls us on occasion asking various questions (census related, but goes on for years).

Their question about number of books in the house tops out at "(e) more than 20" ...

• ||

The # of books in our home is probably in the 100's, but not because we're not avid readers, but rather because we have a great local library...and we use it. I'm trying to teach my kids that process is more important than artifacts. Personally, I LOVE to read novels. I don't, however, enjoy maintaining a library that I then have to keep clean!

• ||

the hexadecimal point (already made) was the first thing i thought of, that will get you up to 255 in two digits.

using the rest of the alphabet for base 36 will get you up to 1295 in two digits.

i have only about 50 books here, and about half of them are cookbooks; when i finish a book i usually donate it to the library.

when i was in kindergarten, the teacher wanted us to play games between naps. her favorite was lining fist-sized rocks up on the floor and pushing little wooden boats around them. i would sit in the corner in sullen silence. teacher thought i was retarded, told mom she was sending me to school psychologist for tests. mom said, i don't think he's retarded. the tests revealed i was reading on a tenth grade level. psychologist announced...

"he isn't retarded, he's antisocial." bingo.

• ||

I have an almost infinite number of porn mags in my house - could spend your life tallying numbers in your little box

• ||

As we discovered, there are a few hundred books in my daughter's bedroom and several thousand in the house.

Fag!

• NolongerTofuSushi||

I have an almost infinite number of porn mags in my house - could spend your life tallying numbers in your little box

I store mine all over the internet.

• Detrius||

One, two, three, many, many-one, many-two, many-three, many-many, many-many-one, many-many-two, many-many-three, many-many-many, many-many-many-one, many-many-many-two, many-many-many-three, LOTS!

• LKH||

Since the emphasis was on creating tallies, did you support your child in creating a paper that matched your situation? Sadly many families would have well less than 100.
It frustrates me when Parents focus their energy on trying to pick holes in an interactive learning activity, instead of the learning at hand.
Did you give feedback to the teacher in question?

• ||

What are children books in the end? If they are Brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Andersen, american folklore fairytales (which for me were replaced by romanian ones) or even La Fontaine fables, I agree there should be such children's books in the house. Instead, I have the feeling that kids nowadays grow up with books that just came out of print and will soon be replaced by other similar ones. I think that when children grow up they need to have books around them, so that, in their curiosity, they can browse through and familiarize themselves with the classics of literature, and if not read them all, at least have an idea of who the classics are, so that, when they grow up and go to college they can mention more authors than just Ayn Rand. For example, knowing about Moliere and its characters: the misanthrope, the imaginary invalid (the hypochondriac) and Tartuffe (the hypocrite), is essential in a child's understanding of the people around him/her, while young americans, such as my boyfriend, have never even heard of Moliere.

## GET REASON MAGAZINE

### Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online

• Peter Suderman: Obamacare's 12 false premises and broken promises. Plus: The long, tortured quest for a conservative health policy.
• Consumers should drive medicine
• Jacob Sullum: Prosecutors disarm defendants by freezing their assets
• Ronald Bailey: The Aloha State’s dishonest anti-biotech campaign

SUBSCRIBE