Can You Read Every Book Ever Written?

Do you ever think that someday you’ll read every book you’ve ever wanted to? Are you convinced you can keep adding to your TBR pile even though it’s already dozens of books deep?

Well, I’ve always wanted to know if it was possible to read every book ever written, or at least, to read every book that I wanted to in my lifetime. So I did some research to find out how many someone might be able to read.

(I’ve rounded up for some calculations and you’ll see me use words like ‘about’, ‘around’, and ‘almost’ to signify these numbers are not exact. Even without exact numbers, the picture painted here is quite clear.)

How many books are published every year?

Every year there are about 2.2 million books published (or more!).1 This number generally is from 2011 and 2012 estimates, and this number has been going up year by year. I’ve seen estimates of over 3,000,000 per year based on ISBN.

How many books currently exist?

There is a lot of controversy over how many books actually exist and what should be considered a unique book. Should all editions of the same book count as one? Or does an update with new information make it another book? What about multiple copies of the exact same book? Do we count audiobooks and maps and non-traditional works?

These are the types of questions that were asked by a massive study in 2010. Their conclusion: There are 129,864,880 books in the world.2

Since that was 12 years ago, this number has only gone up. Remember those 2.2 million new books per year?

How many words are in the average book?

The number of words per book varies greatly by genre. For example, most novels contain between 60,000 and 90,000 words.3 But an e-book might only contain 3,000 to 6,000 words.3 Epic fantasy has been known to hit 150,000.3

With the dramatic difference between genres and some genres being more abundant than others, the word count of so many books is hard to grasp.

For this example, let’s assume 60,000 words per book. This will balance out those short stories and children’s books with the epically long books and textbooks that get incredibly wordy.

How many words can the average person read per minute?

The average adult reader can read 200 to 250 words per minute.4 For the sake of our arguments here, we’ll go with 250 wpm.

Some will read more, some less. If you’re trying to read as many as possible you’ll be reading faster, but remembering less. The average person trying to read faster than 250 wpm will undoubtedly lose some meaning. And what’s the point of reading all those books without getting anything out of them or even enjoying the process?

The Guinness Book of World Records no longer acknowledges the fastest reader as a record because of the controversy behind pre-reading or memorizing sections of text, or not comprehending the words, just looking and flipping pages. Howard Berg is considered the United States’ faster reader, reading 25,000 wpm.5 He leads workshops on speed reading for comprehension. If there was a chance at reading all of the books in the world…he might be our best bet.

How long does the average person live in the US?

The average person in the US will live 77.0 years.6 The average child learns to read between ages 6 or 7, with some starting as early as age 4.7

We can be conservative here and say that the average person might get 70 good years of reading in before they die.

How much freetime does the average person have available to read per day?

The average person in the US has about 5 hours of free time per day.8

That’s 140,525 minutes per lifetime.

(We’ll leave a little flexibility here assuming that you can’t read for the first 4 or 5 years of your life, but maybe you have more free time during early childhood to make up for those earlier bookless years. It probably all evens out.)

The way people spend their time changes over a lifetime and as interests develop. The good news is that all age groups reported spending more time reading because of the coronavirus pandemic.9 This includes 40% of millennials reading more since 2020.9

The average time an adult spends reading in the US is about 20 minutes per day.10 Now, if we use all of our free time to read, we can up that to the 300 minutes most people have in a day. (I guess that means no time for TV, friends, fitness, or other hobbies.)

Will anyone ever read every book in the world?

All of this data adds up to the simple fact that no one will ever read every book. Not even close.

You’d need to spend over 519 million hours just to read the books already in existence. But we might only get about 125,000 to 141,000 hours.

The best super-readers that start at age 25 will only read 4,880 books before they die.11

A reader who reads 100 books per year from age 4 to 104 could read 10,000 books in their lifetime. This might actually be possible for some people. There are definitely people out there reading more than 100 books per year, so even without living an extraordinarily long life, 10,000 books are not out of the question.

The problem is that 10,000 is nowhere near 100 million.

Remember Howard Berg? Even if he read non-stop his whole life, he’d have to live to be around 600 years old just to read all of the books that currently exist. And that’s not including the millions of new books published every year.

So the answer here is a resounding: No. No one will ever read every book ever written.

The positive side to not being able to read every book?

If it’s impossible to read every book you want to, you’re guaranteed to never run out of good books. You will always have another to read.

You’ve got to admit that it’s pretty reassuring to always have a plethora of amazing books to choose from. The world is becoming a smaller place with the help of the internet. Free books, e-books, libraries, and shipping services allow even the farthest away books to reach a new reader instantly or within a few days.

Books are as endless as your love for them.

So think on the positive side now that you know for sure you’ll never read every book ever written. And there’s really no need.

Enjoy the books you do read and forget about the ones you’ll never get to. Life is short… so read something good.

Sources and Additional Reading:

1https://malwarwickonbooks.com/published-every-year/

2http://booksearch.blogspot.com/2010/08/books-of-world-stand-up-and-be-counted.html

3https://www.bookeditingservices.co.uk/average-word-count-in-a-book.html

4https://irisreading.com/what-is-the-average-reading-speed/#:~:text=Many%20resources%20indicate%20that%20the,to%20250%20words%20per%20minute.

5https://www.rotary-austin.org/howard-berg-worlds-fastest-reader/

6https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/life-expectancy.htm

7https://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/preschool/Pages/Helping-Your-Child-Learn-to-Read.aspx#:~:text=Most%20children%20learn%20to%20read,the%20second%20or%20third%20grade.

8https://www.rand.org/news/press/2019/10/28.html#:~:text=A%20new%20RAND%20Corporation%20study,more%20free%20time%20than%20women.

9https://www.statista.com/statistics/1107853/book-readers-coronavirus-us/

10https://www.statista.com/statistics/622525/time-reading-us/

11https://www.bookbub.com/blog/news-study-how-many-books-we-read-in-a-lifetime

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