2500 books

Over on Twitter recently, I read a post from a man who mentioned that he was abandoning more books than he finished these days. He wondered if that was normal as he got older.

I replied that it was probably a realization that we’re only going to read so many books in life. If you read 50 books a year — a high tally! — and you live for 50 more years — an optimistic guess for those of us in middle age — that is only 2500 books. That is it.

If you’re only going to read 2500 more books (or fewer!) then you want to be sure that any given book is worth including in that canon. However, you can’t be sure when you start a book if it’s going to be great. Hence the wisdom of abandoning books. If something just isn’t working for you, you want to let it go, so you can try something else that might be worth including in your life list.

I read a lot of books on the Kindle app on my phone; it’s easier than holding a book while nursing a squirmy toddler, which tends to be a big chunk of my reading time. So lately I’ve been employing the “Send a free sample” button a lot. I get about 20 pages, and can decide if I want to continue. Often I do. But sometimes I don’t. Which is just as well. You can build a rich reading life by trying broadly, but abandoning liberally. For something to make it on the 2500 book list, it should be good.

How many books do you read per year? I’ll have a low tally this year, but that’s partly because of my one-chapter-a-day reading of War and Peace.

Photo: The “Local Bookstore” 1000-piece puzzle from White Mountain. 

19 thoughts on “2500 books

  1. I have often wondered how many books I manage a year. When the painsomnia is high, the count skyrockets to 1-3 books a night, but lately I’ve been plodding through books incredibly slowly. It’s more like 1 book a week. I assume it’s a phase. I rarely abandon books but sometimes, and particularly with the pandemic, I just can’t face up to the subject or genre I’ve picked and just need to move on.

  2. I’ve read a staggering 80 books so far this year! This is NOT normal for me! I used to read about 80/year before I had kids. Then the last 2 years, I read just over 100. This year I will set a record for # of books read. It’s funny because so many women loved to tell me that I would not have time to read after I had kids… (you know, the “oh just wait…” comments people love to give!) Turns out they were wrong! I read more than ever! Probably because I have a quieter social schedule than pre-kids and I am even more intentional about how to spend my time. This year has been an exceptional year for reading because I was on maternity leave for the first 4 months and I did a ton of reading while nursing. Would have preferred to read less and sleep more, but so it goes when you have an infant! So my pace will slow during the 2nd half of the year, but I typically go upstairs to read at 8:30 and have lights out by 9:30 so get at least 30-60 minutes in so I will still read probably 5-8 books/month.

    I am more ruthless about abandoning books, too, thanks to listening to Modern Mrs. Darcy’s podcast/reading her blog. She encourages it because life is too short to read a book that isn’t a good fit for you. I typically make myself finish book club books, but otherwise I will abandon it if I’m not feeling drawn to read it.

  3. I have taken three grad classes this year, so most of my reading is academic and cannot be abandoned. Ha! I often enjoy re-reading favorite books.

    I love the bookstore puzzle. I just finished a Ravensburger puzzle called “The greatest bookstore”. It’s relaxing to spend a few minutes here and there working on one.

    1. @Kristi – I have been on a puzzle tear…one reason I am reading fewer books! It just feels more brainless, or at least a different part of my brain, and so I’ve been preferring puzzles to reading these days.

      1. Love this Local Bookstore puzzle … Puzzles, or needlework, or any such activity is a good deviation when our brain is not ready enough for reading, and yet these activities prevent us from mindless scrolling.

  4. Wait But Why did a phenomenal representation of this (how many more books you’ll read in your lifetime, how many more times you’ll eat pizza, swim in the ocean, visit your parents if you live far away, and so on). It feels like we have time to do an endless and unlimited number of ALL of them but in fact the opposite is mostly true. Kind of frightening in some ways but mostly really thought-provoking!


  5. This has NOT been a banner reading year for me. I usually read something in the neighborhood of 40-50 books per year. This year I have only read about 10 so far. Some if this is a crazy work year, a home remodel and a 13 yo who likes to hand and chat around bedttime when I would previously have read (I am not going to turn away a chatty teen!!!). However, my bigger issue has been finding books I want to read. I have been abandoning books like crazy this year, just struggling to get into things. As an upholder, I struggle to abandon books and I think I hold on too long. I should probably abandon with…greater abandon.

  6. My reading goal on Goodreads for the past few years has been 50 books. It is a doable number for me. I’m already half way through my goal for 2021, so I may surpass this year’s goal. I hope so because there are many terrific books to read and not nearly enough time. Sigh!

  7. I’m right at 57 books for the year so far- and zipping back through my Kindle and Scribd history, I was surprised at how many I started and never finished. Sometimes its because the book was well recommended but simply not my thing, some books just seemed lousy, and some, I hope I’ll get back to. I think 2500 books in my future is a good guess–I’d rather not waste more than a few.

  8. Can highly recommend everyone who commented reads Michael McGirr’s beautifully written book, ‘Books that saved my life’ It is almost a vicarious digesting of 100 books that you feel you now have a connection with regardless of whether you add them to your tbr. Also great to dip into if you just want to read a few select chapters. Australian ex-Jesuit priest.

    1. At some level this is an industrial engineering calculation (in which I’ve got a Masters Degree)- what’s the timeline and how to make the most of it! I have done these with other things like how many Halloween’s will I have? Seems weird but it all supports your mantra on time and making conscious choices on using it.

      I used to read all books on kindle- also helped I was traveling frequently for work, no kids. Now I’ve switched to all audio books. With 4 kids there’s way more options to listen and watch them play, then have my eyes diverted. Sometimes I miss “reading” or wonder if I’ve “lost” some skill of reading 🤷🏼‍♀️ Either way, I enjoy my books and average over 40/year with some of those quite long. I lay out my books on a monthly sequence/grouping. I pair things together if I’m reading a series or complement a long Nonfiction with a fun easy fiction. A little neurotic but fun😜

  9. I normally read 75, not really an aim but it has been consistent over the past few years. When I was travelling a lot for work, I could finish a book on the train or would stay up late if reading something good. I think I am a bit slower this summer than normal, it is light so late so often I will potter in the garden once kiddo has gone to bed, which is equally rejuvenating. But I should bring a book outside as well.

  10. I average about 50 a year although I’m behind that schedule this year. There’s been a lot of good TV lately. lol

    1. This is a very valid point. I used to read a lot, but now there are so many good TV shows, and I see no problem in watching great TV shows by keeping some reading aside. There are many shows that are wonderful book adaptations, Queen’s Gambit on Netflix for example. I guess I would have never picked up a chess based fiction book ever, but I loved the series so much.

  11. Thank you for this, and for the Is it Worth Your 2500? Post. I have recently joined Goodreads and the suggestions are overwhelming! I felt the pull to read popular fiction, because that’s what other friends were reading. Recently I picked up a library book my own choosing and not someone else’s suggestion. When I found myself not reading for a few days, forcing myself to keep reading (because I might enjoy it in another few chapters) or grabbing a different book when I headed outside to relax, I finally realized it wasn’t worth my time, or the mental energy spent being on whether or not I should just abandon it. I finally returned it and have read some other books worthy of my 2500.
    Good to know I’n not alone in this!

  12. Hello there laura,
    I done reading 4 thousand weeks by oliver burkeman , since both of you guys expert on time management, can you do a review and your opinion for the books

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