At the beginning of the New Year, many people make resolutions (just as if another time wasn’t good enough). One popular commitment is “I’ll read 52 books this year”. I didn’t take a part in such challenge but somehow managed to achieve this anyway, so I would like to share some thoughts about it. You may find this helpful if you plan to do this (it’s still not too late!) or just would like to know how fast you can read and how much time would it take.
Reading “Ulysses” is not the same as skimming through a short novel. But, regardless of the number of the pages, both will be counted as one. There is no standard book length. Thus, comparing the number of read books is meaningless. Well, maybe except if you participate in this challenge with your friends and all of you agreed to read the same books. But in most cases, you have to keep in mind that it will be your personal challenge and not something that you can compete with others.
Would changing the challenge name to “I will read 10 000 pages this year” could help here? Well, that’s a bit more accurate, but on the other hand, some books have big fonts and huge margins, and some not. There is no standard page format.
Stepping down to a level of the pure text, we could count the words or even the characters. Using a number of words will be handy later for estimating reading speed (measured in words per minute), so let’s not go too far and use this metric.
Time to compare some books:
Above numbers are approximated. I used Calibre (an excellent ebook library manager) and Count Pages plugin to scan ebooks in EPUB or MOBI format. As this is automated process, number of words includes everything: publisher’s info, tables of contents, and in case of Ulysses 18 kB of the Project Gutenberg’s licence (around 3000 words). They are also not normalized (more on this later). I looked up the page numbers of paper versions at Goodreads. This can vary depending on edition.
Some time ago, after reading “Wyspa Łza”, I wrote a program that can create quite interesting stats (average sentence length, longest words, etc.), but as it still needs pure text format file on input, using Calibre was handier.
Back to the subject: it’s clear that you can increase the chances to complete the challenge by selecting short novels and drastically lower them by reading long books. You probably don’t want to pick such brick-sized books as “Lód” (BTW: next month I will celebrate the 2nd year of reading it ;).
52 books a year is one per week. How much time should you spend on reading each day? That depends on two factors: the book’s length and how fast you can read.
Average book length
If you prepared your reading list and know the total length of the text, just divide it by 52 and you have your weekly amount to read. But this would be a pretty hard task to do if you prefer paper versions (that is, to count the words, but you can do this at the level of pages).
I analysed my own ebook library and after removing dictionaries and all pdf-only files I ended up with 1610 books and the results were 335 pages and 77210 words on average. Median values were 281 and 65837 respectively.
I think these values are a bit too high because there were many technical books included and these tend to have listings and indexes that bump the word count. If you going to read only novels, then assuming that an average book length is 250 pages and 50 000 words seems to be reasonable.
An average reading speed is about 200 – 250 words per minute (wpm). By practising you probably can increase this number to 300 – 400 wpm.
Maybe you heard about speed reading courses where they ensure that you can bump this number up to 1000 wpm or develop “photo-reading” (doesn’t really work, confirmed by NASA). There is also an interesting technique by Spritz that eliminates eyes movement so you can use this time to process more words (but you cannot go back in text and after a while, you probably will get tired).
As the reading speed goes up, comprehension decreases. These techniques are useless when you want to learn something or read just for the pleasure. They can be useful if you want to quickly decide if an article is worth reading, though.
If you would like to check your reading speed, I prepared a short test.
After completing it, you should have two results; standard words per minute and normalised words per minute.
The second value takes into account varying length of words. The shorter ones like “me” or “you” can be read faster than “quantization” or “subjectivism”. To counter this, all the non-white characters are summed and then divided by 5 (an average word’s length in English) to make all of them equal.
Insert your values into this equation:
Book length / Reading speed / 7 days = minutes a day
For example, let’s use average values of 50 000 words and 250 wpm:
50000 / 250 / 7 = 28.6 minutes a day
So, around 30 minutes a day and you can read 52 books in a year. Even less if you read shorter books and can do this faster than an average person.
All right, but what’s the point of doing this? Well, let’s see. You can read for pure entertainment or to gain knowledge (which itself can be fun). In theory, each book should improve your imagination, expand your vocabulary and even reduce the stress of daily life. But does reading poor quality books really broadens your views? Or maybe it’s just a waste of time?
It’s not possible to read all the valuable books in the world. Reading all the classics would itself took a few years, and new books are published every day. Over a few years, I collected over 2000 ebooks. I don’t think I will read them all. Let’s do a quick calculation, assuming 52 books a year: 2000 / 52 = 38,5 years of reading. Yeah, good luck with that. Most of the technical books will be outdated by then.
It’s a good idea to create a realistic reading list for a year, with a spare time slots for new releases.
Maybe there are many books to read, but how to know which ones are worth reading? The easiest way is to join some reader’s community like Goodreads and check your favourite genres and books with high ratings and positive reviews.
Some well-known people are famous for reading many books a year. Bill Gates recommends many of them on his personal website. Barack Obama promotes reading and gave many recommendations during his presidency. Emma Watson, an actress know for her role of Hermione in Harry Potter series, started Feminist book club on Goodreads. Mark Zuckerberg hosted A Year of Books online book club. There are many other well-known people promoting reading.
As I said at the beginning, I managed to complete such challenge. In 2015 I read 57 books (pictured on the featured image, without 2 audiobooks and 3 that were just different language editions of the already included ones). While the feeling of such accomplishment was nice, I don’t think the quantity really matters. Therefore, I don’t plan to do this again, my target for this year is 24 books. But if you do, just prepare your list of books (preferably the shorter ones), measure your speed, allocate the right amount of time and have fun! :)
One more thing: you probably noticed that the covers on the featured image are in not-so-random order. It turns out that colour sorting is a quite interesting topic and you can expect some texts on this soon. And while we are at it, the “Let’s make a demo” series will be continued too. In the meantime: happy reading!