Since 2018 I have participated in Goodreads‘ annual reading challenge. I do this more for fun than anything else. Reading itself is a pleasure for me. The challenge is always how much can I possible read in the limited time that I have. The Goodreads challenge is a fun way to help me focus on this, the way a FitBit challenge can be a fun way to exercise.
In the last four years I have completed the challenge twice. In 2018 I set a goal of reading 120 books and I read 130. In 2019 I set a goal of reading 110 books and read 112. In 2020 and 2021, I didn’t complete the challenge. I read 88 books in 2020 (out of 110) and 79 out of 100 last year1. I’m not disappointed when I don’t complete these challenges. After all, 81 books in a year is still a lot by any standard.
The challenge counts books and that is a hard thing to estimate in advance since so many books vary in length. I have a tendency toward longer books, and if you look at the list of books I’ve read since 1996, you’ll notice that I don’t count the pages read, but instead, I made up a statistic I call “Book Equivalents” or BEq for short. BEq is based on the average book length I’ve read over the last 25+ years, which turns out to be 410 pages. A 410 page book, therefore is equal to 1 BEq. A 600 page book would be equal to 1.46 BEqs while a shorter, 200 page book would be equal to 0.49 BEqs. This allows me to normalize how much I read and compare from year-to-year more readily than the number of books I read. Goodreads, of course, doesn’t track reading this way and on their challenge, I count a book as a book regardless of my book equivalents, but it is the BEqs that really matter to me.
For instance, though we are not quite halfway through January (as I write this), I have not yet finished a book. According to the Goodreads challenge I am 3 books behind schedule. There are two reasons for this. The first is that I did almost no reading during our final week on vacation while we were at Walt Disney World. The second is that the book that I started at the end of 2021 (I count a finished book by the date I finish it not the date I start it) was Gore Vidal’s massive United States: Essays 1952-1992. This book is 1,295 pages, or 3.16 BEqs. As I will finally finish this book today, you see that, based on BEqs, I’m right on par for the year, even though Goodreads counts this massive tome as a single book. (Fair enough.) Indeed, this book is the third longest book I’ve read in the 26 years I’ve been keeping my list. The two books that are longer? The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York by Robert A. Caro, coming in at 3.28 BEq which I read in 2018; and Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898 by Edwin G. Burrows and Mike Wallace, which stands at the top at 3.47 BEqs. I read this one way back in 2006.
My reading frequently comes in waves, often driven by the butterfly effect of reading. I’ve read as many as 20 books in a single month (once) and there have been months (long ago) when I read no books. These days, I usually get through between 5-10 books per month, but things that throw me off. Last year, I was distracted for two months by listening to back episodes of the Tim Ferris Show Podcast when I would normally have been listening to an audio book. I don’t regret this, but it explains why my reading was so low in the spring. Here is what my book counts and BEqs looks like since 1996. You can scroll in the window to see more years.
In 2022, I am attempting once again to read at least 100 books. As I tend toward longer books, this is frequently a challenge. To do that, I need to finish a book every 3-1/2 days. Given that an “average” book for me is 410 pages, that means reading 120 pages every day of the year. Most of the reading I do is through audio books, and I frequently listen to audio books at 1.7x. Take the case of United States. The book is 1,295 pages. The audio book is 60 hours long. One hour of listening time is equivalent to about 22 pages of text. However, because I listen to the book at 1.7x, the book is really 35.3 hours of listening time for me. That means 1 hour of listening time covers 37 pages of text. Assuming my average read to be 410 pages, the 120 pages I need to get through each day requires 3-1/4 hours of listening time. I usually aim for about 3-4 hours of listening time throughout the day, so this goal seems achievable to me.
For those who might want to follow along in my reading challenge in 2022, you can find me on Goodreads. Of course, I’ll also be updating the list of books I’ve read since 1996 as I finish each book so you can always check there. And if you have a reading goal for 2022, I’d love to hear about it in the comments.
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- The image below shows 81, but I think I have 2 books in my Goodreads data marked as finished that I haven’t actually finished. I need to go and correct that data. ↩