books

How Many Books Will You Read in a Lifetime?

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We readers like to imagine that we’ll always have time for a book. We’ll get to finish all the great ones. The classics. The new releases. The fantasy series that stretches on for book after book. The standalone memoir that somehow reflects our own lives.

But of course we won’t read all of the books in the world. We probably won’t even have the chance to read all of the books that matter. Time is finite after all. So are the number of novels we read.

That raises the question: how many books will we each read during our lifetimes?

Emily Temple over at Literary Hub set out to find the answer to that very thing. She found that the answer depends on several variables including how long we’ll each live and how many books we read per year. So Temple created three categories: an average reader, a voracious one, and a super reader. These theoretical readers read 12, 50, and 80 books a year respectively. (The average American reads 12 books a year, hence using that as the starting point.)

According to Temple’s analysis, someone with my demographics will still have the chance to read the following numbers of books:

30 and female: 86 (56 years left)
Average reader: 672
Voracious reader: 2,800
Super reader: 4,480

I read quite a bit, but even 2,800 or 4,400 books doesn’t seem like that many. Not in the grand scheme of things. Not when I account for all of the books that have already been written and will still be written in my lifetime. Now let’s jump forward in my life 30 years and see how those numbers change:

60 and female: 86 (26 years left)
Average reader: 312
Voracious reader: 1,300
Super reader: 2,080

My chances to read will have dropped even further. As my opportunities to read start to dwindle, I suspect that I will only want to read books that I passionately love. Seeing these numbers also makes me think of the average readers in the world. If you were going to read less than 1,000 books in your lifetime. Which ones would you choose? How would you choose? Would each book matter a little more because you had fewer of them in the library of your mind? Would you be more discerning in the books that you read?

To see the full analysis and find how many books someone of your sex and age have the chance to still read, head over to read Temple’s full article. The project certainly puts our reading lives in perspective if nothing else.

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59 thoughts on “How Many Books Will You Read in a Lifetime?

  1. This is so crazy to think about. I mean, does that take into account the number of books that people re-read during their lifetime?

    Though, this really makes me think about all the books I review but didn’t enjoy (and wanted to stop reading part way through). Am I wasting my little amount of reading time on those books? Should I be more selective? It really makes me wonder if I should change my DNF policy. :/

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I respect when people try to finish every book they read; I just can’t seem to do it myself!

      As for these estimates, I don’t think they account for rereading, which drops the number of books people will read even more. (…And that is probably something I shouldn’t think about.)

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Very interesting. I am retired now so I have more time for reading. I read about 70 books a year. When I worked it was about 45 books a year. I always have a list of books I want to read. The list is always growing. It is a great problem to have. I love books.

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    1. I certainly have a warped view of how people read. I think that is a result of working with books and reading so many book blogs. It seems like everyone is surrounded by reading material at all times, which, of course, isn’t true.

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  3. Zoiks! Thanks for making me reflect my own mortality while I eat lunch.

    Seriously though, great question. It really puts things into perspective, and makes me want to be more selective. In fact, I’ve noticed in the past few years (maybe it’s a 30’s thing?) I’m becoming more selective about the media I spend my dwindling free time on. Movies, TV, games, and especially books. I used to force myself to finish media I wasn’t enjoying, simply for the sake of “completionism” or to “see if it will get better”. These days I will quickly drop something if I’m not entertained/informed by it.

    I think this raises another important point, which is our nearly limitless options thanks to technology (ebooks, reprints, self-publishing). Now more than ever we need methods of discovering what’s best and most meaningful for us to choose in our limited lifetimes.

    Curation becomes our lifeboat in a sea of endless choices.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree with your last point. The curation of both information and materials is a tricky one. Many people now have access to seemingly infinite resources. How do they choose what to read? Do they rely on review sites? Suggestions for friends? Does that mean that people get more and more stuck in their own “book bubbles”? Or does it all just mean that we spend a lot more time searching through digital (and non-digital) book stacks? Great questions.

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    1. Oh, I can definitely see that. Though now I am imagining an alternate reality where book actuaries sit and enter numbers about people’s reading habits. (Though I suppose a few of them in this reality may do that too.)

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  4. Last year was my readingest year yet, and I busted my hump to read 120 books. My goal is a little bit lower this year, but still over 100. I have a pretty large collection of print and ebooks, and I’m guessing if I didn’t go to the library again (and refrained from buying anymore!) until I’d gone through what I own…it would take me about 18 years to finish. Making me roughly 59. At 100 books a year, with 27 years left after that…another 2700. Not very many considering how many more amazing books will come out in the next 45 years!

    Great topic!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ebooks really have made it easier to ‘collect’ books. It’s still impressive that you have enough to last you 18 years though! (It also reminds me that I probably need to clean up my Kindle book collection…)

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      1. Last night, I started reading Doree Shafrir’s novel “Start Up”, which is about millennials in the tech industry and the story really plays up the intensity in many people feel the need to always be in the know with social media. In a similar way, it’s how I feel when I go in a bookstore, like a hamster running in a wheel. It’s impossible to do it all and that’s overwhelming. Fear of missing out!

        Liked by 1 person

  5. This is so depressing! I routinely read more than 100 books a year, but some are re-reads and many are children’s/YA novels (I don’t count the picture books I read). In my head I still think of myself as having an infinite time to read and potential to read anything I want one day.

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  6. I figured this out a few years ago. If a book doesn’t grab me within the first 50 pages I won’t finish it (earlier if it’s really bad). And I’d consider myself somewhere between voracious & super reader – I’d like to be a super super reader!

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  7. I know I read at least 12 books a year because I’m in a book club! 🙂
    Seriously, I don’t count how many books I read. On Goodreads, I add the new ones I’ve read, plus any old ones that happen to come to mind. But I know I’ve read MANY more books than what I have listed on Goodreads.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Not all books can be read at the same rate. You can whiz through a predictable but fun read in a few hours, but it might take weeks to finish a really meaty book. I’m with those who find this appproach kind of depressing. Reading for pleasure should be just that — immersing yourself in a world created by the writer and getting away from goals and self-imposed obligations. And re-reading a well-loved book is always worthwhile. Do you limit the time you spend with friends you’ve known for years just because there are all those new people out there you haven’t met?

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    1. Oh, that is a good point! I didn’t even think of how rereading a book would play into this. I’m fairly sure the analysis doesn’t take it into account at all. Sometimes you read a book, and it does become a part of you. It would be a pity to set it aside just because you wanted to meet an arbitrary reading goal.

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      1. Reading is a fairly complex activity, when you think about it. I have to admit, I didn’t read the details of the study; could be the author(s?) specified some parameters, e.g. recreational reading of genre fiction new to the reader. It’s interesting and encouraging that such research is being done.

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  9. I will begin this by saying I love to read. I joined “goodreads” a few years back as a way to keep up with what I have read and what I want to read. I take their reading challenge every year. I usually set my goal for 100 books. Not all of them are serious reading some are just pure fun and fluff. I do however manage to read at least 100 books a year or more. Of course I would rather read than eat or talk so I may not be as social as I could be, but rarely do one get invited to a gathering and told to bring a book. .

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  10. I wonder if the true answer is ‘not as many as you think’. I’m not entirely convinced by statistics of this kind but my thoughts dwell on the tens of thousands (at least) who may never read anything.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Always having to be read list is a wonderful thing! Imagine having no more books to read–that would be hell to me. I will refrain from mentioning how many I think I have read, because it might seem outlandish.

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  12. Did you ever see the episode of The Twilight Zone about the man who survived an atomic blast by being in a bank vault? Then he had all the time to read, but he drops his glasses, and he is almost blind. That is truly a horror story on so many levels.

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