Active Stocks
Tue Apr 23 2024 13:07:20
  1. Tata Steel share price
  2. 162.15 0.19%
  1. Bharti Airtel share price
  2. 1,342.00 3.35%
  1. ICICI Bank share price
  2. 1,090.35 0.30%
  1. NTPC share price
  2. 344.85 0.52%
  1. Tata Motors share price
  2. 985.25 1.20%
Business News/ Specials / How many books will you read before you die?
BackBack

How many books will you read before you die?

The Economoist

And tips for choosing the best ones

Our back-of-the-envelope calculations show how many books you can still hope to read—and how to make time for the best ones. Photo: iStockPremium
Our back-of-the-envelope calculations show how many books you can still hope to read—and how to make time for the best ones. Photo: iStock

Choosing your next book can be a daunting task. Do you go with one that will broaden your worldview and pique your imagination? Perhaps a neglected classic, or the newest sensation? Or, defying the snobs, do you indulge in a salacious romp? The choice is all the more daunting when you consider how much reading time you have left in a lifetime. Calculating this might strike you as morbid. But The Economist dived in with glee. Our back-of-the-envelope calculations show how many books you can still hope to read—and how to make time for the best ones.

Graphic: The Economist
View Full Image
Graphic: The Economist

We started by asking 1,500 Americans about their reading habits with help from YouGov, a pollster (see chart 1). Only 54% of respondents said they read or listened to a book in 2023. Of those who did, the average was 11 books. By that count, if a seven-year-old began reading in 2023, they would get through roughly 770 books in their lifetime, according to actuarial tables. A 30-year-old might have around 500 left to read. And someone in their 70s might be down to their last 100.

Even a more voracious reader, who lives well into old age, would struggle to scale the mountain of books in existence. By some rough estimates there have been 160m unique titles published since the widespread adoption of the printing press in the 15th century. One would struggle to get through more than 0.003% of the total, even if reading a book a week (which only 4% of our respondents managed in 2023).

Don’t panic. These gloomy numbers suddenly look much better if you remember Sturgeon’s law, coined by an eponymous (and jaded) sci-fi author: “90% of everything is crap." If you filter out the guff we reckon the average seven-year-old has plenty of time to get through a solid selection of fabulous books.

To calculate this we scraped a list of critically acclaimed titles from 1000bookstoread.com, a site based on a book of the same name by James Mustich. Then, with the help of howlongtoread.com, a search engine, we created a rough estimate for how long it would take to get through the roughly 900 books for which we found the data.

Graphic: The Economist
View Full Image
Graphic: The Economist

If you read 11 books a year, it would probably take you 84 years to finish our rough list of classics. Other estimates find that Americans read for 15 minutes a day, in which case you would need 102 years. But read daily for half an hour, and we reckon you could complete it in 51 years (see chart 2). A young reader might start with Beatrix Potter’s “The World of Peter Rabbit", easily finished in a couple of days, and end with a 92-day slog through Leo Tolstoy’s “War and Peace" aged just 58. If they manage to set aside one hour of reading a day, we reckon they could get to the novel decades earlier, in their 30s, and spend most of their adulthood on yet-to-be-published masterpieces.

If the 46% of people in our survey who didn’t manage to read a single book in 2023 put off reading until retirement, they may only get through a third of the acclaimed-books list. (If they tackled the books alphabetically, they might be lost in the world of Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Kidnapped" around the time they leave this one.)

Our list is not a definitive canon of literature. Psychological horror may not be your thing, so ditch “The Silence of the Lambs". If you find obscure medieval literature a bore, toss aside “The Sagas of Icelanders" and reclaim 39 days of your life. As John Irving, an American novelist, once said, “Grownups shouldn’t finish books they’re not enjoying."

© 2023, The Economist Newspaper Limited. All rights reserved. From The Economist, published under licence. The original content can be found on www.economist.com

Unlock a world of Benefits! From insightful newsletters to real-time stock tracking, breaking news and a personalized newsfeed – it's all here, just a click away! Login Now!

Catch all the Business News, Market News, Breaking News Events and Latest News Updates on Live Mint. Download The Mint News App to get Daily Market Updates.
More Less
Published: 21 Feb 2024, 05:00 PM IST
Next Story footLogo
Recommended For You
Switch to the Mint app for fast and personalized news - Get App