How many books will you read before you die?

Via the Passive Voice, I happened across this intriguing post about how many books you will have time to read before you die, based on actuarial statistics and average numbers of books read.

Twenty-five-year-old women, for example, have 61 years left to live according to the Social Security Life Expectancy Calculator. Assuming they live that long, average readers in that group have 732 more books to read in their lifetimes. “Average” in this case means people who read 12 books per year.

Okay, twelve books per year is pathetic, but the post also provides numbers for “voracious” and “super” readers, neither of which actually comes close to the number of books most of us read per year (the numbers provided for those categories are 50 and 80 books per year respectively.)

Let us call ourselves . . . super-duper readers? No. Prodigious readers? Hah, how about compulsive readers?

Anyway, I, at very far from the top of the heap, read about 100 books a year. That’s a nice round number, but assuming I keep reading about that many books per year also presumes I will continue writing about two books per year, which may not be accurate. But never mind, never mind. Assume 100 per year.

I expect life expectancy will continue to rise, hopefully precipitously and soon and with a commensurate improvement in the overall health and vigor of old codgers, but assume for now that women’s life expectancy remains constant at a fairly pathetic 86.

I am, of course, a good deal over twenty five. That gives me . . . let’s see . . . let’s assume I live past 86 so I can round up to 4000, which is a nice attractive number. So something like 4000 books are left in my reading life.

The number that floats through my mind for “number of English-language novels published per year” is 400,000, with about three quarters of those now being self-published. If you know that’s way off, let me know. And I expect the number of novels published per year will only increase. But for now I’ll go with that.

So if 1.6 million novels are published in the next 40 years and I can read only 4000 of them . . . that would be 0.025%.

Wow. Of course a large majority of those novels wouldn’t appeal to me for one reason or another, but still. Better get busy.

Also, I’m going to cite these numbers next time someone raises the question of DNFing books versus finishing everything you start. Because as you can see, life is truly, objectively too short to read books you don’t like.

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5 thoughts on “How many books will you read before you die?”

  1. Yeah, I’ve tried to reconcile myself to this awhile back. The nature of TBR/tsundoku is that they will never stop growing, but the number of books we have time to read will never stop shrinking.

    And even so I don’t abandon books lightly, though I try to be more judicious about what I pick up in the first place.

  2. Spending a couple of minutes looking around the internet, one piece of hard data (from Bowker, the “Books In Print” people): self-published works got 152,978 ISBNs in 2010, and in 2015 that had risen to 727,125 ISBNs. That implies that 400K/year is probably a low estimate now, and the real number is almost certain to be higher before the S-curve levels out.

  3. But surely a lot of those are not novels? Though I grant you, if we’ve broken a million self-published titles per year, which seems pretty likely looking just at those two data points, I bet that at least 3/4 of them are novels.

  4. Fortunately, the vast majority of self-published novels are very much in the do-not-read pile. Yes, there a few indie authors worth reading. But it’s a small minority. (It’s even only a minority that *even bother doing a good job editing* their books.)

  5. Rachel Neumeier

    That certainly is what one hears, Pete. Gotta admit my personal experience is limited.

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