How Many Books Can Someone Really Read?

Recently I did some reorganizing of our bookshelves and notice something interesting and kind of disturbing:

I’ve got somewhere around 60 physical books sitting on my shelves that I’ve yet to crack open.

Now, I read fast—really fast—and some of these are small books, but is it really possible to read all of these, plus the others that keep finding their way onto my “to-read” list?

At what point does it become too much and how can I manage to get through the most important books, if not all of them?

The first thing I’m trying to remember is that I don’t have to finish everything. When I get the point of the book, I get the point. It’s okay to put it down. (I did that just recently actually. It was freeing.)

The second thing is if I don’t end up reading all the books still on my shelf, the world will keep turning—and chances are, it’s not going to ruin my life.

The third is remembering that I don’t need to add additional books to my “to-read” list. I don’t have to read everything that I want to (and neither do you).

And the final thing…?

“Of making many books there is no end…” (Eccl. 12:12a) There’s always going to be more books written, but it’s wiser to focus on the one of greatest import—the Scriptures. If that’s my goal, then, at the end of the day, I can’t say I’m missing out.

Posted by Aaron Armstrong

Aaron is the author of several books for adults and children, as well as multiple documentaries and Bible studies. His latest book, I'm a Christian—Now What?: A Guide to Your New Life with Christ is available now.

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18 Replies to “How Many Books Can Someone Really Read?”

  1. […] this seems contradictory since I was recently wondering about how much is actually realistic for one person to read. And maybe it is, depending on your perspective and your purposes for reading. If you’re […]

  2. […] How Many Books Can Someone Really Read? […]

  3. That’s like asking, “How much chocolate can one eat?” Just keep plodding. It’s freeing to think that my chocolate supply will never end. 
    But, yes, God’s Word is primary.

    1. Great comparison 🙂

  4. Have you read “Lit” by Tony Reinke? Great read.

    1. Yessir—even reviewed it  here ( One of my favorite reads of 2012 so far.

  5. I sold or gave away almost every book I owned when I relocated to the US earlier this year. It was a sad day (like a funeral) but liberating too. That said, three months on and my shelves are quickly re-filling. Not to mention all the cheap / free titles landing on my Kindle.

    It’s an epidemic that doesn’t stop!

  6. Indeed! Thanks for the encouragement to keep the most important thing, God’s Word, central to our reading, meditation, etc.

    John Piper once blogged similarly:

    is far from my intention to depreciate the value or deny the usefulness of
    books, without exception: a few well-chosen treatises, carefully perused and
    thoroughly digested, will deserve and reward our pains; but a multiplicity of reading is seldom attended with a
    good effect.


    the confusion it often brings upon the judgment and memory, it occasions a vast
    expense of time, indisposes for close thinking, and keeps us poor, in the midst
    of seeming plenty, by reducing us to live upon a foreign supply, instead of
    labouring to improve and increase the stock of our own reflections.


    John Newton in his letter “A Plan of a Compendious Christian Library”
    (Works of John Newton, Volume 1, 236).
    Paragraphing added.


    Are you reserving
    sufficient time in your life to reflect on Scripture”



  7. You know you’re reading too much when READing starts taking the place of GOing and DOing.

    1. I Like that!

  8. Aaron,  I just had this conversation yesterday with someone – including the verse.   I’m regretting having spent so much time over my life reading  about what others  say about the Scriptures than reading and memorizing them for myself.

    Glad you posted this. 

  9. It’s a great point that you don’t have to read the whole book. My first class in grad school taught me to “gut” books. Read the intro/preface. Look at the table of contents and you can usually figure out which chapters introduce the author’s main ideas and which chapters expand or reiterate previous ideas, which for good content readers aren’t as important.

  10. Thank you. Timely words for a fellow (as my wife calls me) book vulture. Good things to take to heart. Hey, isn’t it $5.00 Friday at Ligonier. More inexpensive books!!!

    1. It’s true! I’ll opt for inexpensive audio teaching to listen to while reading 🙂

  11. I’ve just taken delivery of a very kind gift of £300 worth of books (less books than you might imagine!), which I am both very excited about, and a little guilty about the increasing number of un-read books on my shelf. In fairness, though, I do read them as quickly as possible – I just need to pace my buying a bit better! And this was a special one-off gift 😉

    (Oh, and some of the books were for my wife, and a couple were reference books which aren’t likely to be read cover-to-cover just yet!)

  12. Aaron,
    This reflects many of my recent thoughts. I am down to about 2 dozen physical books on my shelf and perhaps another 2 dozen on Kindle (I won’t mention the hundreds I have in Logos that I would like to read).

    There are some books that I want to drink deeply and get to know well. Some of them, I have read multiple times (e.g., Desiring God). Others I move through very quickly. Some I set down because they are just not doing it for me, at least not at that time. 

    I wrote about this not too long ago in a post called “discarded books”–

    1.  Don’t get me started thinking about all the books in Logos that are still unread!

      Yikes, I thought I was behind when I looked at my Kindle and my shelf.

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