You Don’t Read as Many Books as You Think You Do
If you’re reading this article, there’s a good chance you consider yourself a “bookworm.” You probably have a stack of books piled somewhere in your home or even a bookshelf or two. You may even prefer to read e-books or online texts.
Either way, you have access to a lot of reading material.
But you probably haven’t read it all, and if you were honest with yourself… there’s a good chance you never will. It’s practically a badge of honor to have a home full of books even if you’ve never cracked a spine.
There’s a common saying that you judge a person by the books they have in their home. So for a lot of self-described bookworms, it’s important to look the part because a reader appears intelligent to everyone else and everyone likes to look intelligent.
But do you act the part? Are you a reader who actually picks up a book and reads or do you just pretend to because that’s become your identity?
The Data Will Hurt You
The truth is that reading takes a lot of time. The average book has about 90,000 words and the average adult reading speed is 200 words per minute. That means it takes 7.5 hours to read a book, though skilled readers might do so a bit faster.
Reading speed doesn’t matter though. Not really.
According to the Pew Research Center, the average adult American reads 12 books a year with half of Americans reading 4 or less. Those with a college degree do pick up more books at 17 a year, with half reading 7 or less, but it’s not that much of a difference in the grand scheme of things.
The numbers for a survey in the United Kingdom gives more insight into possible averages for true bookworms: 34% of adults read more than 10 books a year and 51% of adults responded that they even picked up a book at all.
Meanwhile, the average book shopper purchased 9 books.
This suggests that while there are occasional readers reflected in the averages in both the United States and the United Kingdom, heavy readers seem to read an average of 12 books in a year. This works out to 90 hours per year or 1.7 hours per week.
The daily equivalent is only 15 minutes per day.
It would take you longer to watch all seasons of The Office which clocks in at a total of 99 hours. Really puts it into perspective, doesn’t it?
Bookworms Lie to Themselves
Any reading is a good thing, but this seems like a far cry from the image the “book obsessed” literati often lay claim to. The average American watches 2.8 hours of television a day. If bookworms spent this much time on books, they would be able to read at least 121 books a year.
That’s not to say that everyone has to make reading their hobby or that bookworms need to read 121 books a year. However, there’s a good chance that you, as a self-described “serious reader”, may be criminally overestimating how many books you actually read per year and fail to make it a priority in your life.
It’s probably why you have so many books or online articles on your reading list that you never seem to get around to. A better way to describe yourself might actually be “tv watcher.”
But how do you make reading a priority if you realize you aren’t reading enough to make you satisfied?
The key is to create a reading habit by setting aside time for a consistent reading schedule. You can do this daily or by allocating blocks of time during your weekend. Weekend blocks are especially useful for those with long working hours or children.
Before bed is a common routine, but any time of the day is fair as long as it’s part of a consistent pattern that you hold yourself to. Don’t overthink it — just imagine what times that you would most like to read and do it again and again until it becomes instinctual.
Developing a Personal Reading Formula
Those who read often tend to read faster, and while you can take a reading test to determine your average words per minute, I suggest skipping that and going with the adult average instead. There’s a good chance you stop to imagine scenes or look up things on your phone anyway, bringing your average down to 200 words per minute.
Although books vary in how difficult they are to read, the following reading formulas give you an idea how much time you may want to set aside for reading. Note that I averaged these numbers down a bit to be more rounded.
The Daily Reader
Someone who reads daily is likely to read in shorter, but more frequent chunks:
- 15 Minutes = 12 books a year (1 a month)
- 30 Minutes = 24 books a year (2 a month)
- 45 Minutes = 36 books a year (3 a month)
- 60 Minutes = 48 books a year (4 a month)
- 75 Minutes = 60 books a year (5 a month)
- 90 Minutes = 72 books a year (6 a month)
The average attention span tends to max out at ninety minutes, so I think it’s unlikely most people would read more than that a day if they’re a daily reader unless they make a living with books in some way.
The Weekend Reader
Those who wait to the weekend to read are probably going to read in longer chunks and possibly multiple chunks per day.
- 30 Minutes a Day, 1 Hour a Weekend = 6 books a year (0.5 a Month)
- 1 Hour a Day, 2 Hours a Weekend = 12 books a year (1 a month)
- 1.5 Hours a Day, 2.5 Hours a Weekend = 18 books a year (1.5 a Month)
- 2 Hours a Day, 4 Hours a Weekend = 24 books a year (2 a Month)
- 2.5 Hours a Day, 5 Hours a Weekend = 30 books a year (2.5 a Month)
- 3 Hours a Day, 6 Hours a Weekend = 36 books a year (3 a Month)
I find that I rarely hear of weekend bookworms reading more than three hours per day unless they aim to finish a book each weekend.
If you would like to calculate your own special formula based on your own particular habit, this will help:
- Daily: Minutes x 200 x 365 / 90,000
- Weekly: Minutes x 200 x 52 / 90,000
Note that this formula accounts for books, not online articles, which vary too much for a formula to be useful. However, if you would like to use a formula to determine the equivalent number of books you read per year, it’s interesting to know.
If you plan to make a reading habit, you need to consider three additional factors:
If you need to read a certain number of books per for your career, then you need to make sure that you schedule enough time to do so and have time for leisure reading.
For those who only need to read for work, then 6 to 12 books per year is probably ideal. This is true for occasional readers as well. That way you can relax for fifteen to thirty minutes per day, probably when you wake up or go to bed.
But devoted bookworms are unlikely to be happy with only 12 books a year. You need to be reasonable though: you don’t want to have stacks of books you never read and you don’t want to spend money you don’t have.
Determine how many books you plan to buy and how many books you plan to check out from the library or read online. Rereads can be an affordable option as well.
New books cost anywhere from $10-$20 USD, or about the hourly wage for most American workers. If you were to buy 12 books a year, it would cost you $120-$240 a year — more than an entire day’s work. If you buy 24, it would cost $240-$480 a year, or three days of work.
One way to stock up on a lot of books to own is to purchase used texts. Online stores, thrift shops, and library book sales are excellent.
Anyone who has ever gone to an American library book sale will understand the fierce competition: you wait outside sometimes an hour or more before the library opens with bags, boxes, and trucks ready to haul away a treasure trove of books.
When the door opens, you stampede in and make your claims, giving an evil eye to anyone who so much as looks at the book you’re racing towards. I once bought fifty books in almost new condition for $20 USD!
Remember You Want to Read
I shared some disheartening data and some cold hard math, but the reality is that reading should be something you look forward to, either because you find it fun or because it helps you in some way. Once you know how much time you want to devote to reading, don’t stress out about how many books you actually finish if you’re putting the time in the first place.
Books vary in length. I frequently read poetry books and manga, which might only take me an hour or so to finish.
But if I were to crack open a history text or an epic fantasy, it might take me awhile. The book Game of Thrones is 298,000 words long and would take the average adult 24 hours to finish. Talk about an epic!
If you read more than an hour each day, you may also find it helpful to read few books at a time of different genres. Maybe you’re picking away at a difficult nonfiction book for your career, but throwing in a comic book or funny memoir for part of your reading time will go a long way to increase your enthusiasm to return the next day.
Bookworms who say they love to read need to make it a priority in their lives. It’s so easy to let your reading time slip away and find that you haven’t made a dent in your reading pile all year. So make sure you set yourself up with a good routine you’d be happy with.
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Great article !