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How Many Books Will You Read in a Lifetime? Around 4600, If You Read Fast (ft.com) 99

I once sneered at lifetime reading plans. Two decades later, I'm more aware that reading time, like all time, is precious, writes journalist Nilanjana Roy. From her column on the Financial Times (might be paywalled), shared by a reader: As the new year approaches, I sort my bookshelves and reboot my lifetime reading plan. Like a good road map, the plan makes the difference between dreaming of visiting 50 places before you die, and actually getting to 10 or 11 of those in the year ahead. In my twenties, arrogant with the faith of a speed-reader who had plunged recklessly into reading the classics of Bengali and Hindi literature alongside English, I sneered at lifetime reading plans. So earnest. So stuffy. Who wanted a map when you could freewheel down the highway, veering from JM Coetzee to Ursula K Le Guin, reading Stephen King alongside Beowulf or The Mahabharata, reading Tamil pulp fiction in translation one week, Japanese crime thrillers the next? Two decades later, I'm more aware that the years pass swiftly, that reading time, like all time, is precious. In a thoughtfully planned survey for Literary Hub, writer Emily Temple plotted the number of books an average reader in the US might finish in a lifetime. She analysed trends for women and men across different age groups, and broke down the results into three categories: the average reader (about 12 books a year), the voracious reader (50 books a year) and the super reader (80 books a year). At the age of 25, even a super reader with a long life expectancy will finish a mere 4,560-4,880 books before they die.
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How Many Books Will You Read in a Lifetime? Around 4600, If You Read Fast

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  • by rock_climbing_guy ( 630276 ) on Monday December 25, 2017 @02:07PM (#55805283) Journal
    I'd like to know what they were smoking when they said the average reader reads 12 books a year. How many people read even one?
    • Ditto.

      Measured by reading speed and comprehensive ability, I would be considered a very above average reader (or at least so I was told in school). How many books per year do I read? A big fat zero. As with most millennials and xennials, I consume my content in much more bite sized chunks... I read A SHITLOAD of content but it is not in the form of novels... Most of the stuff I read is of the form of 15-30 page articles in The Atlantic or The Economist. I simply don't have the patience to dedicate a dozen h

      • Most of the stuff I read is of the form of 15-30 page articles in The Atlantic or The Economist.

        The Economist doesn't publish 30-page articles, though I know what you mean. Sometimes a feature topic is fairly bulky.

        I read roughly one heavy, non-fiction book a week from the local library. If a book doesn't force me to slow my reading speed down to Big Think, I soon toss it aside.

        Chapter one, paragraph one of Tim O'Reilly's What's the Future (2017):

        In the media, I'm often pegged as a futurist, I don't think

    • Why do people like you enjoy bragging about how stupid you are.

      If you add up the NFL, NBA, MLB, and NHL revenue for 2016 and multiply the total by 4 you've got about the value of the book publishing industry. They're approximately $10 billion, $8 billion, $10 billion, $4 billion and $121 billion respectively for 2016.

      Even more impressive considering the big 4 sports have sweetheart deals with cable companies for revenue from people who never watch their content and a lot of people read library books
      • If you think I'm bragging about being stupid, I think you misunderstood. I do read at least a short stack of books every year. I am skeptical that an "average" person would read 12. I would think that less than one person out of 100 reads 12.
        • Reading is a solitary activity, a lot of people read a lot and don't talk about it. At least a quarter of my coworkers are heavy readers judging by the books on desks and seeing them read at breaks, yet we don't talk about it.

          Sports fans on the other hand seem to do nothing but discuss it and assume everyone else shares their interest. So there's a perception that sports are a lot more popular than they are and books a lot less. But the finances don't lie.
        • I would think that less than one person out of 100 reads 12.

          Hmm...immediate family - parents, brothers, wife, children...I think two of us (eldest brother may have stopped reading since I saw him last. Doubt it, but possible) are non-readers. The rest of us generally manage a book or more each a week.... I've done three since last weekend myself....

      • Citations?

        They seem important here because I suspect you are comparing four very US focused things (the NFL, NBA, MLB, and NHL) to _all_ of global publishing. Children's books, newspapers, even books about sports, are being included in your total. If you were to compare them to just the more relevant adult fiction in the same market, it would not come out nearly as well for your case.

        Anyway, back to my book . . .

    • by Space cowboy ( 13680 ) on Monday December 25, 2017 @02:28PM (#55805371) Journal

      *Looks at iPad*

      In the last 3 years I've bought over 500 books, most of them in the 600-1200 (thanks Brandon) page length. That's not taking into account the thousands of books I've read prior to realizing I could carry around a library instead of a book or two by going digital. I could stock a good-sized bookshop with the books in the attic...

      4600 seems pitifully small to me - I'm only about halfway (hopefully) through life and I'm already well past that.

      • by Bigbutt ( 65939 )

        I agree. I have a couple of thousand books in my library and I’ve read at least half of them twice. A smaller percentage more than three times like LotR/The Hobbit.

        I do read a lot more than 12 books a year.

        [John]

      • Yeah, I once sat down and figured out how many books I'd read. It was about 12K.

        That was more than 10 years ago. A couple of hundred books a year is when I'm working a lot and don't have time to read. Since when is 80 books a year a "super reader"?

        I'd guess their averages aren't so far off (some people just don't read many books), but they seem to have no idea where the extremes are.

        • by fyngyrz ( 762201 )

          Since when is 80 books a year a "super reader"?

          That's how it strikes me as well. I read about three books a week; and I feel like I'm slacking. When I was younger (as in, about 40 years ago when I was 20 or so) I easily read one a day. Lately, that's rare. I'm re-reading David Wingrove's Chung Kuo [amazon.com] now, and those are going more-or-less at about 2/days per volume, barring interruptions like Festivus and Saturnalia. :)

          But my life is much more demanding now. I just don't have the time to read like I did when I

          • I do know some folks who, according to them, "don't read books." They do speak of it as if it's some kind of chore. I don't understand why, but honestly... I don't think I want to understand why.

            It doesn't take much imagination to figure out why. For the first two decades of life in this country, reading *is* a chore. Remember, "It's a miracle that curiosity survives formal education."

            • by fyngyrz ( 762201 )

              For the first two decades of life in this country, reading *is* a chore.

              Wasn't a chore for me at all. It was like a bright light shining on the mysteries of the world for non-fiction, and an infinite stage for fiction, one far superior to the movies or television. Your experience was apparently different. And no, I still don't understand it.

              Books are easily obtainable. Libraries are everywhere, including in most schools. Schools put them right in front of student's faces in classes. They're chock full of in

              • by Gryle ( 933382 )
                Eh, having survived a US public education I can see both points. I hated a good chunk of the assigned school reading (the overriding theme of one particular year was "everyone dies alone in the rain"). The stuff that wasn't terrible in hindsight*, we had to analyze and dissect every single sentence and word nuance to write some ridiculous essay on the author's intent or biases or hidden meanings or anarcho-facist transcendentalist leaning or what-have-you. I can understand how four years of that could kill
                • by Quirkz ( 1206400 )

                  I fell in love with reading before school had pushed too many books at me, so I kept at it on my own, even as classwork did ruin a few. Luckily for me Vonnegut was never assigned, so he landed on my fun list young. I'm just in the process of re-trying Hemingway now. Shakespeare I sort of intellectually appreciate but don't go out in search of, and on the rare occasions when I do pursue something of his, it's on stage or screen, and not by reading.

          • Yep yep. A book a day (or very close to that) from roughly when I was seven or eight years old until I was 32 and my first son was born (which very much put a damper on that). I was probably the only kid "ever" to go to Duke with a footlocker full of paperbacks that I stacked up on the one meager shelf on the wall of my dorm room so it reached to the ceiling. At the time I had to cut back due to offspring (a period that lasted almost 25 years, and to some extent continues today) I had at least 3000 to 40

        • Since when is 80 books a year a "super reader"?

          I wonder if that's new books? That's more than one a week, so either you're buying a lot of books, or you live near a good (and convenient) library. I read more than that, but a lot of the time I'm rereading books that I've read at least once before, so they don't count towards a lifetime reading total.

          • I rarely re-read books, but yeah, I only purchase new books by authors I already know I like.

            Most books I read are either from one of the nearby library systems (do a lot of reserving to get specific books/series) or on Kindle or KU (if available).

          • by pnutjam ( 523990 )
            ebooks irc channel and calibre, email me if you want more info.
    • If you read, you read 12 books on average a year.

      If you don't read, you're not a "reader".

    • Thinking the same here - I used to read hundreds of books a year (which got me to reading at an adult level and reading adult books by the time I was ten). I would burn through a few novels every weekend, and everyone bought me books for Christmas that were consumed by Boxing Day.

      That pace could not be maintained after I hit my 20s, and it slowed down again when I got married and yet again when I had kids. I may well have had 2k books under my belt by age 20, but I probably will never double that over th

      • by pnutjam ( 523990 )
        I enjoy ebooks. I can keep one on my phone and read during downtime. There's alot of waiting with family stuff, and even if I'm just standing in a long checkout line; i can read afew pages and pass the time.
        Bonus, I don't mind the text-to-voice engine on my phone, so I can listen to my books while I drive and pick it up in the same place when i want to switch back to conventional reading. Actual audio books are too expensive and I find the voice acting distracting.
        • I wish I could do that, but I can't even read a chapter at a time - I read cover-to-cover in one go. Always have. I get into the story and it breaks the 'flow' for me to put it on pause.

          And for some reason, audio books just drive me mad. It's a different media and requires telling the story differently.

    • by antdude ( 79039 )

      Like me. :P

    • Re:"Average Reader?" (Score:4, Informative)

      by thomst ( 1640045 ) on Monday December 25, 2017 @04:56PM (#55806001) Homepage

      rock_climbing_guy mused:

      I'd like to know what they were smoking when they said the average reader reads 12 books a year. How many people read even one?

      I believe she says "the average reader" as distinct from "the average person". The average person - at least, the average person in the USA - barely reads at all. (Hardly surprising, given the American education establishment's devotion to the "whole word" approach to teaching new readers.) The average reader, by contrast, probably does read a book a month. They're the folks the Kindle store was created for.

      Of course, half of those books are romance novels - the most popular fiction genre by a long margin. Mysteries are next, then science fiction and fantasy. (And there's not a lot of science in most of what gets categorized as science fiction nowadays, either, so lumping it in with fantasy is not necessarily inappropriate.)

      Full disclosure: I'm a writer by trade and these details matter to me, so I pay attention to them. Most people couldn't care less.

      FWIW - when I was a kid, I'd consume up to 10 novels a day. I was determinedly unathletic in those days - and still am - so I did little else until I reached puberty. Then my reading consumption dropped pretty steeply ...

      • Hardly surprising, given the American education establishment's devotion to the "whole word" approach to teaching new readers.

        Precisely.

        I'm over 4X the "lifetime number", and my average is a book a day. This does not include any reading I do online, it counts only physical books, most of which are in various rooms throughout my house (or in many, many boxes).

        If you lean "whole word", you do not recognize written versions of words you use in every day speech, if you've never been taught them, nor can you speak words which you've only ever encountered in written form.

        This is a necessary consequence of learning words as ideograms, r

    • Re:"Average Reader?" (Score:4, Interesting)

      by mikael ( 484 ) on Monday December 25, 2017 @06:21PM (#55806307)

      As a teenager I used to go round all the second hand bookstores and pick up dozens of old sci-fi books, collections and anthologies. I could read a handful of short stories for a hour or two while in bed, or a novel over a week. Having to go to bed at 10pm because that's when my parents went to bed and turned off the heating to the rest of the house. One shelf on my wall was crammed full of sci-fi books.

    • I'd like to know what they were smoking when they said the average reader reads 12 books a year. How many people read even one?

      Very likely that statistics is hiding reality here. If most people read 0-2 books per year, but a small but not insignificant amount of people read 50 books per year, the average will be 12.

    • by arth1 ( 260657 )

      I'd like to know what they were smoking when they said the average reader reads 12 books a year. How many people read even one?

      Speak for yourself. I read at least two books a week, so around 120 books a year. That means an average of 12 books a year for the group if I'm counted with nine non-readers.

  • I count Goodnight Moon as one of the books I've read. Sure, it's shorter than the Silmarillion, but I've also read it 20 times to my kids. If you read a bedtime story per night to your kids, and have a well-stocked public library nearby, you can easily read 150 new books per year for a while.
  • I prefer reading stupid Slashdot comments!
  • over the last 3 years my count is like 125... And I've read like that since I was a kid... MANY decades ago.

    That doesn't count the magazine (dead tree and electronic), technical articles, manuals for work and email lists I subscribe to.

    And, yes, I do other things too.

    I do NOT sit, drink beer and cheer clods smashing one another on large publicly funded grass fields or chasing small white balls through grassy parks.

    I do throw heavy balls at harmless pins just to watch them fall down in fear and hysterical la

    • To reply to my own post is gauche, but I realized I needed to clarify... That's 125 a year.

  • ...a new category above "super."

    When I was a kid, I used to go to the library every week, checking out a book a day. By age 35, I had a library of over 4000 books. I read all of them. That's about 2.5 books a week, just for the ones I owned. I've slowed down a lot in my later years, only finishing two to three novels a week on the average. I've read at least 6,000 books in my lifetime, probably closer to 8,000.

    I'm nowhere near the most obsessive reader I know of. I've had middle-aged friends who had librari

  • When I donated all my paper books after I got my first kindle, I counted around 4400 paper books. My back hurt for 2 weeks.
    Plus I got a new empty room.

  • Recreational reading is the one thing I don't plan. My reading list consists of whatever strikes my fancy at the library or bookstore.
    Books I've bought but haven't read yet may constitute some sort of plan (as in 'I plan to read these on my next vacation'), but I'm not going to work my way down a list of 'books I should read before I die'.

  • I just read the dictionary. All the other books are in there.

    [ Apologies to the comedian I can't remember who said that first - though it sounds like something Steven Wright would say. ]

    Merry Christmas to 65% of you [slashdot.org], Happy Holidays to 28% of you and What the Fuck is Wrong With You That You Can't Just Pick One to the remaining 7% -- which probably includes me, sorry. My wedding anniversary is Dec 23, would have been our 28th, but Sue died in Jan 2006, so I don't really feel festive this time of the year

  • Plateau determined by your own fatigue, by realization that books are repetitive, by lower sognal to noise ratio comes earlier.

  • I sneered at lifetime reading plans. So earnest. So stuffy. {...} Two decades later, I'm more aware that the years pass swiftly, that reading time, like all time, is precious.

    Not following her reasoning here. Feeling the preciousness of time more acutely as you age, sure. But how does that change whether a "lifetime reading plan" makes any sense?

    Is there some exam in the afterlife that she needs to prepare for?

  • Lemme see, when I was in college in the 60s I was able to earn a Masters degree in Electrical Engineering with a decent GPA at the same time I was reading one to two SF paperbacks a day depending more on availability than time. So that's at least 400 a year. The collection I had before a water leak killed off about half it it was about 200' of paperback books, 95% of which I had already read. At about 1/2" per book that's about 4800 books. And then I had another about 1000 that were used to prop up the seco

  • My my younger kids, in their 30's, have probably read more than that. My personal library - the sf&f, and that's books in the bookcases in the family room - are closer to 4,000 than 3,000, and there may be 15 or 20 that my late wife read that I didn't care for, and a good number I've read multiple times.

    And no, I don't speed read - from what I've read, you miss a lot of what they're saying in content that needs to be thought about. I do read about 250 wpm, though.

    So, jeez, if you're talking about 60 yea

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