For book bloggers and other bookish influencers, the end of the year means round-ups: lists of what we loved, lists of what we didn’t, lists of what we read in total. This should be a time of joy and reflection, a look back of all we experienced this year, both as individuals and as a community of readers. But often it’s a time of disgruntlement and jealousy, when we look around and wonder, How did everyone else read so much more than I did?
So let this be your annual reminder from me that reading is not a competition, and even if it were, we’re not all playing with equal resources on a level field. We should all be happy about what we read this year, whether it was a little or a lot.
Most Americans only read an average of 4 books a year
In 2016, Pew Research reported that:
Americans read an average (mean) of 12 books per year, while the typical (median) American has read 4 books in the last 12 months. Each of these figures is largely unchanged since 2011, when Pew Research Center first began conducting surveys of Americans’ book reading habits.https://www.pewresearch.org/internet/2016/09/01/book-reading-2016/
Roughly a quarter of American adults (23%) say they haven’t read a book in whole or in part in the past year, whether in print, electronic or audio form, according to a Pew Research Center survey of U.S. adults conducted Jan. 25-Feb. 8, 2021.https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2021/09/21/who-doesnt-read-books-in-america/
So if you’ve read five books this year, you’re already ahead. You don’t need to have read 50 or 100 or 365 to be a reader or even an “avid” reader.
Everyone’s Circumstances Are Different
Not everyone has the same access to books or to time to spend reading. When I see people who claim to have read 300+ books in a year, I try to remember their circumstances are different from mine. “How much” one reads can based on a variety of factors including:
- how many hours they work, if at all
- if they can read while commuting or while at work
- whether they have caretaking responsibilities
- whether their health allows them to read
- whether they have easy access to a library or purchased books to read
- whether they are passing on other hobbies to spend time reading instead
- how much time they need to spend cleaning or maintaining their home
- whether they are reading short or long books, simple or complex ones
- . . . and so much more.
No reader should feel bad they have not read as much as another reader if there are circumstances that simply do not make extensive reading possible for them.
People Count “What They’ve Read” Differently
I also find it useful to keep in mind that everyone “counts” their reading differently. For instance, I’ve read over 100 books this year, but many of them were picture books. Clearly, these books take much less time to read than novels, and there are many people who will not add picture books to their Goodreads challenge at all. Similarly, some people read a lot of graphic novels, which are faster to read, while others don’t read them or don’t officially “count” them in their reading goal.
There are also some people who count DNF’ed books as books “read,” whether they stopped reading the book 5% through or 95% through. Clearly, someone who is reading 15 pages of a book and deciding it’s not for them, then adding it as a completed book to their Goodreads goal, then doing this for dozens or even hundreds of books, is going to look as if they’ve “read” much more than they did. (This legitimately happens, and while I am a firm believer people can count their reading however they like, I also think it’s relieving for others to realize that, no, this person did not truly read 600 books in 12 months.)
Focus on What You Want to Get Out of Reading
If you feel like you need to recenter and remember the joy of reading at the end of this year, try focusing on why you read rather than on how much you have read.
Do you read to learn things? To be entertained? To relax after a hard day? To find books that make you think? Or books that stick with you long after you’ve closed the covers?
If you had fun reading this year, if there were books that made you laugh or cry or see things in a new light, if there were books that you truly enjoyed, that’s what really matters. What you got out of them. Not how many of them you read.