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1,000 Books Read In One Year? No, Not By A Long Shot

Recently, Goodreads sent out a tweet about how to remove social media and the Internet from your life, so you can focus on reading 1,000 books in one year. The post follows this sort of math:

  1. The average person reads 400 words per minute.
  2. The typical non-fiction books have around 50,000 words.
  3. Reading 200 books will take you 417 hours.
  4. The average person spends 608 hours on social media annually.
  5. The average person spends 1,642 hours watching TV annually.
  6. Giving up 2,250 hours annually will allow you to read 1,000 books in one year.

This blew my mind. I'm a very avid reader. Since signing up for Goodreads in 2013, I've been hitting at least 20,000 pages read every year, and I'm on track to read 25,000 pages this year. But, I'm only putting down 75 books each year. Now granted, a spare 2,250 hours per year ÷ 365 days per year is just over 6 hours per day of reading. I'm not reading 6 hours per day. I don't watch TV, I have a job, kids and a wife to take care of, and other things that keep me off the computer most of my time at home (I'm writing this blog post after midnight).

No doubt, 6 hours per day is a lot of reading. But I average 2 hours per day, and I'm only putting down 75 books annually. 6 hours of reading per day would only put me around 225 books each year, a far cry from the 1,000 I should be hitting. What gives?

Well, it turns out, Charles Chu is being a bit ... liberal with his figures. First off, the average person does not read 400 words per minute. Try about half, at only 200 words per minute, according to Iris Reading, a company that sells a product on improving your reading speed and memory comprehension. This cuts our max books from 1,000 in a year to 500.

Second, Chu claims the average non-fiction book is 50,000 words in length. I can tell you that 50,000 words is a very slim novel. This feels like a Louis L'Amour western length to me. Most books that I have read are probably closer to twice that length. However, according to HuffPost which quotes Amazon Text Stats, the average book is 64,000 words in length. But, according to this blog post by Writers Workshop, the average "other fiction" novel length is 70,000 to 120,000 words. This feels much more in line with what I've read personally, so I'll go with about 100,000 words in a typical non-fiction novel.

So now that brings our annual total down from 500 to 250 books. That's reading 200 words per minute, for 6 hours every day, with non-fiction books that average 100,000 words in length. I claimed that I would probably come in around 225 books, so this seems to be a much closer ballpark figure.

But, does it line up? Let's look at it the another way, and see if we can agree that 200-250 books annually, reading 6 hours per day, is more realistic.

I claimed I'm reading about 2 hours per day. I read about 3 hours for 4 of the 7 days in a week while commuting to work. For the other three days in the week, I can read anywhere from 1 hour to 3 hours, depending on circumstances. So my week can see anywhere from 13 hours to 15 hours on average. That's about 2 hours per day.

During 2016, I read 24,048 pages. That's about 65 pages per day, which feels right on target. But, how many words are there per page? According to this Google Answers answer, which offers a couple citations, a novel averages about 250 words per page.

But, readinglength.com shows that many books I've read are over 300 words per page, and some denser at 350 words per page, with the average sitting around 310. So 250 words per page at 65 pages per day is 16,250 words per day, and 310 words per page at 65 pages per day 20,150 pages that I'm reading.

Because I'm only reading about 2 hours per day, that means I'm reading at a meager 135 to 168 words per minute, based on the above stats. I guess I'm a slow reader.

If I highball it at 168 words per minute, then in 6 hours, I will have read 60,480 words. After a year of reading, that's 22,075,200 words. An independent blog post confirms this finding of 250-300 words per page, but also uses that to say that most adult books are 90,000 - 100,000 words in length (additional confirmation from earlier), and young adult novels target the 55,000 word length that Chu cited (maybe Chu likes reading young adult non-fiction?). As such, I can expect to read 22,075,200 words per year ÷ 100,000 words per book, or about 220 books in a year of reading 6 hours every day.

Bingo.

So, what can we realistically expect from reading?

  1. Readers average 200 words per minute.
  2. A page averages 250 words.
  3. A novel averages 100,000 words.
  4. One hour of reading per day can hit 30-40 books per year.
  5. Six hours of reading per day can hit 200-250 books per year.
  6. To read 1,000 books in a year, you need to read 22 hours per day.

This is reading average length adult non-fiction books at an average speed of 200 words per minute. The calculus completely changes if your average reading speed is faster than 200 wpm, you read primarily graphic novels with little text, or read shorter non-fiction novels. Fourth-grade chapter books? Yeah, I could read 1,000 of those in a year. 🙂

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