Pocket worthyStories to fuel your mind

How Many Books Will You Read Before You Die?

Spoiler: It depends on how old you are right now.

Literary Hub

Read when you’ve got time to spare.

skeleton slumped over a bookshelf

There are millions of books in the world (and almost definitely hundreds of millions—as of 2010, Google had the count at 129,864,880). 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 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

35 and female: 86 (51 years left)
Average reader: 612
Voracious reader: 2,550
Super reader: 4,080

35 and male: 82 (47 years left)
Average reader: 564
Voracious reader: 2,350
Super reader: 3,670

40 and female: 85.5 (45.5 years left)
Average reader: 546
Voracious reader: 2,275
Super reader: 3,640

40 and male: 82 (42 years left)
Average reader: 504
Voracious reader: 2,100
Super reader: 3,260

45 and female: 85.5 (40.5 years left)
Average reader: 486
Voracious reader: 2,025
Super reader: 3,240

45 and male: 82 (37 years left)
Average reader: 444
Voracious reader: 1,850
Super reader: 2,960

50 and female: 85.5 (35.5 years left)
Average reader: 426
Voracious reader: 1,775
Super reader: 2,840

50 and male: 82 (32 years left)
Average reader: 384
Voracious reader: 1,600
Super reader: 2,560

55 and female: 86 (31 years left)
Average reader: 372
Voracious reader: 1,550
Super reader: 2,480

55 and male: 83 (28 years left)
Average reader: 336
Voracious reader: 1,400
Super reader: 2,240

60 and female: 86 (26 years left)
Average reader: 312
Voracious reader: 1,300
Super reader: 2,080

60 and male: 83 (23 years left)
Average reader: 276
Voracious reader: 1,150
Super reader: 1,840

65 and female: 87 (22 years left)
Average reader: 264
Voracious reader: 1,100
Super reader: 1,760

65 and male: 84 (19 years left)
Average reader: 228
Voracious reader: 950
Super reader: 1,520

70 and female: 87.5 (17.5 years left)
Average reader: 210
Voracious reader: 875
Super reader: 1,400

70 and male: 85 (15 years left)
Average reader: 180
Voracious reader: 750
Super reader: 1,200

75 and female: 89 (14 years left)
Average reader: 168
Voracious reader: 700
Super reader: 1,120

75 and male: 87 (12 years left)
Average reader: 144
Voracious reader: 600
Super reader: 960

80 and female: 90 (10 years left)
Average reader: 120
Voracious reader: 500
Super reader: 800

80 and male: 89 (9 years left)
Average reader: 108
Voracious reader: 450
Super reader: 720

Emily Temple is the managing editor at Lit Hub. Her first novel, The Lightness, was published by William Morrow/HarperCollins in June 2020. You can buy it here.

How was it? Save stories you love and never lose them.

Logo for Literary Hub

This post originally appeared on Literary Hub and was published March 22, 2017. This article is republished here with permission.