The question of how many books can you read in a lifetime is an interesting one, and it’s one that’s going to have a very wide range based on a variety of factors. After all, a breezy paperback copy of a 300-350 page book by Dean Koontz, David Morrel, or Sinclair Lewis (if you like the historical Americana classics) and the 800-1200 page behemoths written by authors like George R.R. Martin, Wilbur Smith, or James Michener.
After all, both count as one book, but I can race through a Sinclair Lewis book in 4-5 hours tops while a James Michener or George R.R. Martin book is a multi-day affair in even the best of circumstances.
There are also a wide array of factors that can affect how many books a person can read including, but not limited to:
- Reading speed
- Length and difficulty of the average book being read
- Free time available for reading
- Whether the reader is a casual or avid reader
- Life span of the person
So is there a way to get some accurate ranges of what some people can expect to read in a lifetime? Accurately for individuals, no, but there are several averages we can look at to get some base numbers, and then you can adjust them based on your reading speed, free time, and consistency of reading schedule.
How Many Books Does The Average Person Read in a Lifetime
These numbers are based on studies done in America. Keep in mind that in reading heavy cultures like Iceland, the numbers could be much, much higher for the average adult. However, there have been multiple studies done on this question that give us a variety of answers.
All this data can be pulled together to see how many books the average person will read, how many books the average reader will read, and what numbers “super readers” can expect to put up in their lifetime.
How Many Books Does the Average American Read?
Pew Research as the mean number of books adults read yearly as 4. Meaning that the answer of an adult saying “4 books” was the most common answer, which some would argue can be a more accurate answer than a pure average as if you have 80 books read by one person, and 0 books read by nine people, that comes out to 8 books per American per year, but that isn’t close to an accurate representation of that group as a whole.
If we use the mean answer, that would put the average books a reader would read in a lifetime between 300-316 books read in a lifetime depending on age, when you start counting, which books count, etc.
While this might be an average, it isn’t even close to being the limit to how many books it’s possible to read in a lifetime. If you count books like Hardy Boys or Choose Your Own Adventure or The Boxcar Children, the types of books you read in early grade school, then I know for a fact I’ve read over 350 books in a single year multiple times before.
This shows that while averages give us an interesting starting point for how many books you can read in a lifetime, it’s hardly a rock solid cut and dry answer.
What About the Average American Reader?
For those who identified as being readers, the numbers are unsurprisingly higher. According to a study cited by Iris Reading, the average reader will complete 12 books a year. If you do pure numbers off of this assuming a starting point of 25 and the average life expectancy (82 for men, 86 for women) then the math is easy to do.
This suggests in a lifetime the average American reader will read:
- 684 novels in their lifetime if male
- 735 books in their lifetime if female
This is a decent estimate, but I do have several problems with these numbers. First, this article seems to mix readers and adults as being interchangeable, which they really aren’t if you’re going for average.
The other is that many of us read a lot in high school and college, and even those identifying as readers likely read a huge number of books during this time as they were younger and had more “free” time (or simply needed a lot less sleep) meaning the real numbers could be much higher for all those years that weren’t counted before the age of 25.
For example, I know for a fact that 100 books a year would be a laughably low estimate for me from my high school through graduate school years, but those 11 years at that average would put me at 1100 if I never read a book again. Really throws off those numbers up there, right?
I was also a very advanced reader as a child, meaning I was reading adult novels and fiction starting in 5th-6th grade, and my reading level was at 12th grade. So I’m not a great example for averages – and I can even throw off the numbers for how many books you can read in a lifetime on the high side.
How Many Books Do Self-Described “Readers” Read?
This is a great question that helps us get to better answers because clearly when looking at all adults the ones who call themselves readers are going to pull up the average of the all the people who simply don’t read. Those who see themselves as readers are going to, naturally, read. I know, shocked Pikachu face. Still, knowing what they read on average is crucial if you’re going to try to figure out a good lifetime goal
Those who identify themselves as readers or avid writers tended to average reading 25-30 books a year. Go from age 20 to 80 and that’s 60 years, which means 1800 books on the high end.
This obviously excludes high school and some of college years, and doesn’t grow in retirement when, in theory, you would have even more time to read to further up those numbers.
As an extremely avid reader I tend to average 2-3 books a week. Mostly 2 now, but that’s still in the range of 100 books a year which is 6000 in an average lifetime, or around 7000 from those crazy productive reading years of childhood and high school figured in.
That’s a ridiculous level of books over the course of a lifetime, an amazing series of numbers to be proud of. That said, there are some readers who can even blow those numbers away.
Take Andrew Wheeler’s answer on Quora, which is impressive, to say the least. There are outliers such as this example of Andrew Wheeler on Quora, who talks about the times he worked as an editor and therefore read an unusually large number of books. Since being an editor was his job it makes full sense that he would read 419 books in a year because the 8+ hours a day he worked as an editor was spent reading and editing books.
While he didn’t do this for years, that one year as an editor shows just how many books could be stuffed into a year if it was your job, or you didn’t have to work and reading was your obsession. 419 times 60 leads to an insane (and for most of us even avid readers, utterly unrealistic) number of 25,140. That is just crazy.
That is a bit of a cheat if you’re looking for “average,” but if you want to know the number of books someone can read in a year, a career as an editor is like an automatic cheat mode for pushing that number into the freaking stratosphere. If you are reading 8-9 books a week, you’re going to watch those numbers grow extremely quickly.
So the numbers we have so far for averages to work off of, assuming ages 20-80 for 60 years :
- 240 books for the average adult according to Pew Research
- 720 books based on the 12 books per year average of all adults
- 1500-1800 books based on the 30 a year average for self-identified avid readers
- 6000 books for voracious readers that average 2 books a week and thus 100 a year (roughly)
- 9000 books for voracious readers that average 3 books a week, roughly
- 25,000+ in a lifetime at Andrew Wheeler’s insane one year pace (which he admits he doesn’t think he could do over a lifetime)
It is worth noting that there are cultures that have a much higher average level of reading than the U.S. which would boost those numbers up even more because reading would be so ingrained throughout a culture.
Do Novel Re-Reads Count?
There are some books I’ve read 2, 3, or even a dozen times. There aren’t many but they do exist and that brings up a legitimate question when figuring out the totals: do these all have to be different books or does re-reading a novel count? Do the 17 books in The Dresden Files I’ve read count as just 17, or does the fact I’ve read them all at LEAST three times mean this counts as 51 because hey, even if I’m reading a novel for the third time, I am reading a novel.
In my mind this does count to answering the question of “How many books can you read in a lifetime?” because it doesn’t say original book, it just asks how many. If you choose to read an old book instead of a new one, that’s still time spent reading another book.
So in my mind, add it to the list! Re-reads absolutely count – assuming that you are fully reading the books and not just skimming or using cliff notes.
Do Audio Books Count?
The question of audio books can change the equation immensely, especially as services like Audible (of which I am a big fan). Does an audio book really count as reading a book?
I can see both sides of the argument. On one hand, you’ve consumed the full amount of information from the book. Heard the stories, the chapters, all of it. However, audio books are more like a podcast and it interacts with the brain differently than actual reading text off a page does it really count?
I’ll be honest: if audio books count then my number shoots up, but I rarely just listen to an audiobook while doing nothing else.
In my mind audiobooks generally don’t count and here’s the reason:
- Since I’m rarely doing nothing else that means my attention is split so I don’t really get the full story
- Listening isn’t reading – you don’t “read songs” or “read podcasts” – you listen to them so I think audiobook changes the form enough it no longer counts (and if your argument is that podcasts are much shorter…what about longform podcasts like Hardcore History by Dan Carlin?)
- Studies have shown that which you read on paper sticks with you more than what you just hear – meaning retention is higher with reading, making it a different experience, IMO
Your opinion might differ and that’s fine – to each their own, but in my case I wouldn’t count Audio Books…despite how much that would definitely boost by lifetime book count…especially if re-listens count the way I assume re-reads do.
So How Many Books Can You Read In A Lifetime?
The answer is quite a few – like a lot, a lot. Especially if you are an avid reader. If you are looking for a goal, 6,000 to 10,000 books over the course of a lifetime is a challenging, but fully achievable, number to hit for an avid reader who is committing to reading on a daily basis and loves that habit and hobby.
The average adult will read under 1,000 books but avid readers will be able to read anywhere from a couple thousand to several thousand books over the course of their lifetime. Avid readers will likely hit the 2000-6000 book range while only the very elite of voracious readers will read more books in their lifetime.
But that doesn’t mean that 10,000 or more books read in a lifetime isn’t possible: but that is a serious dedication to get to those rarified heights.
My Eyes Will Always Be Bigger Than My Schedule
I’m a voracious reader and have been my entire life, and do my best to take 2-3 hours a day to get in some reading, and sometimes I manage to do that and sometimes I don’t. I can’t go into a book store without buying something and truth be told if I had a rich unknown relative who left me $10 million so I never had to work again, at least 4-6 hours a day would likely be spent reading.
Even when traveling the world or enjoying the great outdoors, you’re going to have down time and having books on hand is a delightful way to pass the time as you expand your literary world, read amazing books, and enjoy one of the finest hobbies (and habits) that a person can have.
So regardless of the number you hit – never hesitate to pick up a book and add to that lifetime number of books read.
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