Meet the GCC professor who read 750 books in one year

GLENDALE, Ariz. – According to the Pew Research Center, the average American reads 12 books a year. Though it may be hard to believe the average American reads that many books, it might be even more difficult to believe someone at GCC claims to have read 750 books in one year.

Charlie Dell, a 74-year-old professor of history at GCC, makes just that claim, and says he has the five book logs to prove it.

“I’m an OCD person and a high functioning Asperger’s person, which I didn’t know until I was in my 40s. And I’m bipolar. So, I’ve had all these interesting things to deal with, and I have my share of compulsions. My reading is probably my most pronounced. I started keeping a log in 1969, and here we are 53, almost 54 years later, and I’m still doing it,” Dell said.

Is it possible to read so many books? Here is the interview with Professor Dell. You decide.

Q: What age did you start reading?

A: I started reading when I was three. My first adult level novel was when I was six, I read “Treasure Island.” That same year I also read “Robinson Crusoe” and “Swiss Family Robinson,” all in that same year. The following year I read a biography about Daniel Boone.

Q: How many books did you read last year?

A: As of the end of 2021, it was 411. The high being 750 in 2002.

Q: Would you say it is typical for you to clear 400 books a year?

A: When I moved to Arizona in 2000, that year I read 471. I was astounded because I had pretty much averaged about 310 for the years up to that.

I had had one 500-book year in 1977. I was stuck in Nebraska, no job, no car, and I spent a whole winter reading. I didn’t get there again until 2001, and that year I read 650.

Q: Have you always been able to read so much?

A: Yes, I think so. My mother used to fuss at me when I was a kid, ‘go outside. Stop sitting there on the couch reading a book.’ So, I would take the book outside to read.

When I first started keeping track, I was 21. Those early years were pretty low numbers, 200, 150, 180, whatever. Over time, probably in the late 70s, 300 became the goal every year.

Q: Do you read multiple books at the same time? Or do you prefer one book at a time?

A: Although I can focus on one book at a time, I have a lot of interests. It’s not like I just want to read about this. So, I’ll read on Edison for a while. ‘Okay Tom, you’re wearing me out,’ so I’ll go over to Martin Van Buren. By the way, the only president whose first language was not English.

Q: Do you read the books cover to cover? Or do you skim and skip pages?

A: No, I don’t skim, I read. Every book that goes into my book log is a book that I read from page one to the end.

I average about 135,000 pages a year, and I just crossed 7 million at the end of last year, over 53 years. I unfortunately did not count all the years before that.

Q: Are you a speed reader?

A: No, I am not a speed reader, I just read fast. I read every line, I want to know what’s going on, and if you read too fast you miss the details.

Q: On average how many hours a day do you read?

A: Four to six.

Q: What are three of your favorite nonfiction books, and three of your favorite fiction?

A: Oh boy, that would be tough. Fiction I could probably do the three just by the three books of Tolkien’s Ring Trilogy. That takes care of that. But nonfiction? Boy, that would be tough. Well, I read “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich” when I was 13, and I’ve read it a couple times since; it’s always been an influential book to me.  “Nicholas and Alexandra,” which was written by Robert Massie, and another book by the same author, “Peter the Great,” would probably be up there in the top 10 anyway.

Q: Do you ever read on Kindle?

A: I have 600 books on Kindle and I’ve probably read about a third of them. My lady friend very justly pointed out, ‘we don’t have any more room for more books in this house.’ I have shelves in three different rooms. It is a consideration one has to take into account, where do you put them?

Q: How many books have you read in your whole life?

A: I can tell you how many since I’ve started keeping track. 21, 939 as of last night.

Q: What have been the benefits of reading so much?

A: I tend to be reasonably knowledgeable about a lot of different kind of things. So, I can have a conversation with almost anybody about almost anything. And it’s obviously aided my teaching because I can summon up a fair amount of things.

Q: Do you have any suggestions for people who want to read more books?

A: Don’t read something you don’t like. If you get 50 pages into a book and you don’t like it, set it aside, don’t read it. Read something you want to read. Don’t read something you just had to read because you had to read it.

Do I have any other rules about reading? Do it every day. Don’t make it a monster task, if it’s only 10 pages or 5 pages a day, do that. Don’t make it a mountain, make it a small little hill you can climb.


Q: If you were stuck on a desert island, what’s the one book you would want to have?

A: Probably Tolkien’s Ring Trilogy. I have always enjoyed it. It’s got a lot of symbolism in it, it’s got good versus evil, it’s got struggle, it’s got a quest, all these different elements to it. But I would probably have to set it aside occasionally just because it’s so saturated already in my brain. I’ve probably read that trilogy 15 times.

Professor Dell has taught at GCC for 21 years and will be retiring this year.