Saturday, April 1, 2017

"How Many Books Will You Read Before You Die?"

From LitHub:
There are millions of books in the world (and almost definitely hundreds of millions—last they checked, Google had the count at 129,864,880, and that was seven years ago). The rabid and/or competitive readers among you will now be asking yourselves: yes, yes, now how will I read them all?

Well, you won’t.

Okay, so we all accept that mortality is bearing down on us—though it should be said that one of the mental tricks that makes it possible for us to exist as mortal beings without going completely insane is that we actually experience time as infinite, even though we know it isn’t. That is, barring an execution date or a known terminal illness, we wake up every morning assuming we’ll also wake up the next morning, until one morning we don’t—and on that morning, we don’t know it. Because we’re dead. So if we accept that the world we live in is a subjective construct made up of our perceptions, we’re actually all immortal—we live forever within the context of reality we’ve created for ourselves, because when we die, so does that reality. Doesn’t that make all this a little better?

No, it does not. My to-read list is tantalizingly endless, and I often find myself thinking about the fact that my reading time/life is finite when I’m trying to get through a book that I know I should like but is boring (or annoying) me. As Hari Kunzru put it recently in the New York Times Book Review: “I used to force myself to finish everything I started, which I think is quite good discipline when you’re young, but once you’ve established your taste, and the penny drops that there are only a certain number of books you’ll get to read before you die, reading bad ones becomes almost nauseating.”

Consider this a dropping of the penny, for any of you who were still clutching it.

But how many more books will you get to read? It depends, of course, on how you’re counting, but for our purposes here, it’s down to two primary factors.

The first factor is obvious: how long will you live? To estimate the date of all of our deaths, I used the Social Security Life Expectancy Calculator, despite the fact that this is essentially an online quiz where at the end the government tells you when you’re going to die. Fun! NB: I have rounded the data up or down where appropriate. Don’t worry—you probably wouldn’t even have noticed those extra months of life anyway.

The second factor is: how quickly do you read? Or perhaps more accurately, how many books do you get through per year? According to the Pew Research Center, the average American reads 12 books per year—but knowing, as I do, the approximate makeup of the people who are likely to be looking at this space right now, I’ve made “Average” the low end of the range below. “Voracious” here indicates 50 books read per year, or a little less than one per week (“voracious” readers have been known to undertake projects like Infinite Jest or similar), and “super” indicates 80. Super-super readers like Sarah Weinman will just have to make their own calculations.

So with these two factors in mind, you can now amplify your nausea—and honestly, the more you read, the more nauseated your number is likely to make you—by checking the table below and finding out exactly how many books you’ll (probably) read before you (probably) die. Now… isn’t this a fun game?
25 and female: 86 (61 years left)
Average reader: 732
Voracious reader: 3,050
Super reader: 4,880
25 and male: 82 (57 years left)
Average reader: 684
Voracious reader: 2,850
Super reader: 4,560
30 and female: 86 (56 years left)
Average reader: 672
Voracious reader: 2,800
Super reader: 4,480
30 and male: 82 (52 years left)
Average reader: 624
Voracious reader: 2,600
Super reader: 4,160