Speed “Reading”

I started listening to audiobooks five years ago. I wanted to read more. With an audiobook, I could read while doing other things: exercising, walking, driving, doing chores around the house. Since then, I’ve listened to nearly 200 audiobooks. The switch to audiobooks has allowed me add an additional 4,200 pages per year over my reading without audiobooks.

But I am still not entirely satisfied with how much I am reading. Every now and then, I see a statistic that puts me in my place. I recently saw some stat that claims Stephen King has read well over 10,000 books. King is older than me, of course, but even at my recent pace, I’d never make it to 10,000 books in my lifetime. About 18 months ago, I began listening to audiobooks at 1.25x speed. This allowed me to finish a book faster and squeeze more reading into the same amount of time. It required a minor mental adjustment, but I’ve since grown so used to it that 1x speed seems artificially slow.

Not long ago, I did some math. After seeing that Stephen King stat, I wondered what I could do to squeeze in more reading. What was in the realm of the possible, given the reality of my busy life? According to my data, the average time length of an audiobook that I read is about 19 hours. This translates roughly into 450 printed pages. What if I tried to commit to getting in 3-1/2 hours of reading every day?

The math told me that at that at a speed of 1.25x, a 19 hour audiobook can be listened to in about 15 hours. At a rate of 3.5 hours per day, I can finish a book, on average, once every 4 days, or so. Beginning in November, I put this plan into effect, with a good deal of success, as the chart from my Audible app below illustrates.

At that pace, in a full year, I should be able to get through about 90 average length books. I tend toward longer books, but all things being equal, I rounded that number to 80 books per year. That’s 800 books in a decade. Given that I’ve already got 720 under my belt since I started counting in 1996, and if I can hope for four more good decades, I can expect to read about 4,000 books. Still, nowhere near Stephen King’s number.

This weekend, I started reading Ron Chernow’s biography of Ulysses S. Grant, a massive 1,100 page volume, which, in terms of audio time is nearly 50 hours. I decided once again, to up the pace, and began listening to the book at 1.5x speed. I thought this would be too fast, but after a year and half at 1.25x speed, 1.5x did not seem so bad. About 20 hours into the book, and I’m completely used to it by now. Doing this required me to reevaluate my math to see how it impacts my reading in the long run.

At 1.5x, I can finish a 19 hour book in about 12-1/2 hours. At a pace of 3.5 hours per day, that’s a book every 3.5 days. This translates to about 100 books per year, 1,000 books per decade, and perhaps nearly 5,000 books in my lifetime.

At this point in my life, 3.5 hours of listening/day is my theoretical limit. There are days when I manage 4, 5, even 6 hours, but there are an equal number of days where I manage only 2 or 2-1/2 hours. I’m also skeptical that listening at a speed beyond 1.5x would gain me anything. I think at those speeds, my enjoyment, and understanding would suffer.

I’m content with these number, for now. It is the best I can do. But I do marvel at people who can read 10,000, or 15,000 books in a lifetime.

4 thoughts on “Speed “Reading”

  1. So many books, so little time. I too listen/read at a fast speed. I mostly read fiction, so I’m not sure if my comprehension at a high speed would deteriorate if i really has to pay attention! You like to set lofty goals like when you were counting steps. You should chill a bit, just saying.

  2. I don’t know if I’d like 1.5x, as I find the rhythm and flow of an audio work is important. But I will definitely give 1.25x a try. Thanks for the tip. 😀

  3. How does King have time to read 10,000 books and write almost as many? I’m not sure I believe that number. I’m 66, and guess I’ve read around 2,000 books. Actually, I enjoy audiobooks because they go slower. I’ve decided to read less books as I get older.

    10,000 books is doable if you read 4 books a week for 50 years. But what is it getting you? A large tally? What do you get out of books? I’m thinking well-read can be achieved in far fewer books.

    To illustrate my point I compare reading to walking, biking, and driving through a new neighborhood. You notice far more details when you walk or ride a bike through a new neighborhood than driving through in a car. But you notice the most by walking.

    I’m now more concerned with how many books I can remember than how many I read. But then I’m getting old and memory is becoming a problem.

  4. My main issue with faster audio is that it still isn’t fast enough compared to my reading, or rather, no matter the speed, it doesn’t let me “scan” a sentence the way I scan it when reading. I read chunks (or whole sentences), not one-word-at-a-time, but that’s the way listening works. I just have treat them as two separate skills, and I enjoy both – unfortunately at different speeds.

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