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.