Whilst reading Vanity Fair on my Kindle, I noticed that I was finishing about 5% of the book for every hour of reading. It’s a pretty long book, and I noticed that the rate at which I was going through it was fairly reliable. Eventually, I popped on over to Project Gutenberg (where I got my version) and pasted the entire book into Microsoft Word, where I saw that it contains (not including the legalese Gutenberg back-matter) almost exactly 300,000 words. A little division revealed my effective reading speed is about 15,000 words per hour, or 250 wpm.
I’m not sure how this number relates to my actual reading speed, since those 5% hours also contained 5-10 minutes of smoking, as well as additional amounts of staring at the wall, drinking soda, going to the fridge and seeing what we had, returning disappointed from the fridge, shooing away the cat, etc. But I hardly see that it matters, since I am never likely to do an hour of reading that is free from 10-15 minutes of such distractions.
In my reading since, I’ve observed that this rate seems to have held true, though, of course, it could just be a selectivity bias, in that I interpret what are, in reality, various speeds as conforming to the rate I’d already decided was the right one. Still, before I did these calculations, I literally had no idea what my reading speed could be (or even what is normal for educated readers of English). I suppose I would have assumed my reading speed was more in the range of 20-30,000 words per hour (which is a rate that is theoretically possible, since the fastest readers read at about 600 wpm, which would be [assuming they can keep it up], 36,000 words per hour)
Although my heart revels in the ability to quantify the time I spend reading, I am not sure that it will prove healthy in the long run. At 15,000 wph, I must have spent 20 hours reading Vanity Fair. War and Peace clocks in at 600,000 words, that’s 40 hours: a full work week!
George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire books (which I’ve read who knows how many times) are circa 300-400,000 words each…reading through the series probably takes me around a hundred hours. There are only like 5,840 waking hours in a year! That’s a maximum of 876 normal-length (i.e. 100,000 word) books, assuming I read from when I wake up straight through until I go to sleep (more feasible than it sounds, given the 10-15 minutes of miscellaneous tasks throughout each hour). Probably this line of reasoning will eventually drive me insane. I hope insanity comes with mad speed-reading skills.