I finished reading In Search of Lost Time early last (Northern hemisphere) summer. It took me six months, reading an average of 20 to 25 pages a day. Russell took much longer, after I sneakily distracted him by buying him a beautiful 7-volume copy of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire – which he then read, putting Proust aside, unsuspectingly letting me sail past him and into the record books. There aren’t too many books on which you can blow a 1,500 page lead and still lose by 1,000 pages.
A few hours after Russell finally finished, he sent me mail. I speculated on the number of people that had finished it since he did. In other words, how often, anywhere on earth, does someone finish Proust?
Here’s an estimated answer, with plenty of assumptions:
Assume only one person in 10,000 actually _finishes_ the whole thing.
Assume it takes an average of a year to read it all.
So you’ve got 6,000,000,000 / 10,000 = 600K people currently on earth who will read it.
Assume that people’s ages are uniformly distributed, and that everyone dies at 75.
Assume that no-one finishes the book before turning 16.
So the people who are currently 0-15 have not started the book yet. So only (75 – 15) / 75, or 80%, of the 600K (= 480K) alive who will read it, might finish in the next year.
How many will finish in the next year?
Assume that half the people who will read it have already done so. That leaves 240K who will finish it at some point in their remaining lifetime.
Finally, if we assume these people finish at uniform ages, you’ve got 240K finishers finishing over 60 years, or 4K finishers per year.
There are 365 x 24 = 8760 hours in a year, so we have one person finishing every 8760 / 4K = 2.19 hours.