Quick !! Without calculating , just off the top of your head… How many books do you think YOU will read in your lifetime ?
The number varies widely from person to person. There are some who hardly ever read a book unless required to do so in school or on the job. On the other hand there are those who read almost a book a day. Thus the word ” average ” has no meaning in this context ;the” average” will be so far away from either end as to be meaningless.
Paradoxically, those who hardly read will be able to come up with a more accurate number for the number of books they read in a lifetime. Several years ago a poll determined that two-thirds of all Americans read less than a book a year. I doubt that it has changed very much in the years since. Such people would probably reply ” Five hundred” ( or less) and their estimates would not be far off .
On the other hand , avid readers would probably overestimate the number of books they would devour in a lifetime. Many , many years ago, I remember reading an article by Winston Churchill in which he spoke of standing before a bookshelf in a library ( his ?) and feeling a sense of sadness at all the books that he would never have time to read. He went on to give an estimate of the number that he would be able to read and it was surprisingly small . Just five thousand.
Now 5,000 seems like a very small number for books to read over a lifetime but if you take time to analyse the figure , it is quite reasonable. Say that a person lives to age eighty. In the first years of life, when he learns to read the number is close to zero and even afterwards, say till age ten , the number is still miniscule. In the last ten years of life , once again the number diminishes as one may have problems with eyesight or with health. That leaves sixty years in the middle . If one assumes one hundred books a year, a goodly number, then the lifetime total is 60 X 100 = 6,000. Not far off Churchill’s estimate and probably less than the number you came up with . The reason is that a) people generally overestimates the number of days in a lifetime . Eighty years are only 365 X 80 = 28,800 days . and b) most avid readers also overestimate the number of books they read each year. 100 books /year translates two books a week ; I think that we can agree it is a fair approximation.
The number ( whether 5,000 or 6,000) is also surprising to me for another reason. I know that the number of books published each year in the English language is well over 10,000 and yet, when I read book reviews I am amazed at the expertise of the reviewers and the knowledge they bring to bear on the subject. They seem to have read several other books on that particular subject , astonishing considering their lifetime estimate of only 6,000. Perhaps the explanation is that all of us specialize; we restrict our reading to one or two genres and stick to a few authors or subjects making us very knowledgeable in narrowly defined areas.
In my case, I used to keep a list of books that I read each year. At age 12, I remember my list totalled 108 ( many of them the courtroom dramas by Erle Stanley Gardner or Westerns by Luke Short , Ernest Haycox or Hal Evarts) and I was very proud of having read that many. Soon after I stopped the list making and kept on reading , probably at the same clip , though the authors and even the genres changed from year to year. I still read about a hundred a year though I probably skim through two or three times as many.Espescially in non-fiction, I’ve come to realize that the central message of the book is only a few pages ; the rest is merely padding. And then , there are the books which start out great but fail to sustain my interest. Skimming, in such cases, is the natural consequence.