Lex Fridman's 2023 Reading Plan
Jan 2, 2023
1,337 words (7 mins)

Lex Fridman posted his 2023 reading plan on Twitter, sharing his goal of reading 23 specific books by the end of May with one book each week.

Many met this with a nod – “Nice list. Doable”. Others accused him of posturing, claiming you can’t read those books at that pace, and if you do, you’re not digesting them as you should.

As an ambitious reader myself, I thought it would be fun to do a little analysis of the reading plan to see whether it’s reasonable or not.

I read 44 books in 2022 (15k pages averaging 41 pages a day) and 50 books in 2021 (14.5k pages averaging 40 pages a day). Serious readers will consider these rookie numbers. Others will assert that I’m rushing and getting only a cursory understanding of the work.

But I don’t rush. I interrogate every page. I take notes. I discuss them at reading meetups. I follow up with literary podcasts and bookish youtube channels. Some days I don’t read a thing. Some days I lose track of time and find I’ve done 200 pages. And on average, I hit 40 pages every day.

With those modest credentials out of the way, let’s forget about Lex and evaluate the reading plan on its own merits by grabbing some data from Goodreads.

tl;dr: Nice list. Doable.

The books

The following table shows the number of pages, publication year, average Goodreads rating, and total number of ratings for each book:

Book Author Pages Year Rating # Ratings
1984 George Orwell 328 1949 4.19 4,059,967
Hitch. Guide to the Galaxy Douglas Adams 216 1979 4.40 38,890
Brave New World Aldous Huxley 268 1932 3.99 1,701,878
The Stranger Albert Camus 123 1942 4.01 917,113
Meditations Marcus Aurelius 256 180 4.26 188,955
On the Road Jack Kerouac 293 1957 3.62 17,617
Foundation Isaac Asimov 244 1951 4.17 494,403
The Art of War Sun Tzu 273 501 3.97 428,098
Old Man and The Sea Ernest Hemmingway 99 1952 3.79 1028,855
2001: A Space Odyssey Arthur C. Clarke 297 1968 4.16 293,929
Animal Farm George Orwell 141 1945 3.98 3,463,280
Man’s Search for Meaning Viktor Frankl 165 1946 4.37 594,795
Sapiens Yuval Noah Harari 464 2011 4.38 853,914
Metamorphosis Franz Kafka 126 1915 3.84 874,246
Hunger Artist Franz Kafka 84 1924 4.11 15,624
The Plague Albert Camus 308 1947 4.02 228,537
Player of Games Iain M. Banks 293 1988 4.28 67,228
Fight Club Chuck Palahniuk 224 1996 4.19 552,391
The Little Prince Antoine de S-E 96 1943 4.32 1,849,568
The Brothers Karamazov Fyodor Dostoevsky 845 1879 4.35 291,990
Siddartha Herman Hesse 131 1922 4.06 702,280
Dune Frank Herbert 658 1965 4.25 1,157,593
Frankenstein Mary Shelley 260 1818 3.85 1,424,508

Let’s get a feel for the items on this list. We have:

  • Three Nobel prize winners: Camus, Hemmingway, and Hesse
  • Six science fiction classics: HGTTG, Foundation, 2001: Space Odyssey, Player of Games, Dune, and Frankenstein
  • Two classic dystopias: 1984 and Brave New World
  • Two books each for Orwell, Camus, and Kafka
  • Two authors are alive and tweeting today Chuck Palahniuk and Yuval Noah Harari
  • One female author: the never sufficiently praised Mary Shelley
  • 18 are spread over the 20/21st century, there’s a couple from the 19th century, and a couple of ancient classics
  • 12 were first published in English, the others in German, Russian, Chinese, French, Greek, and Hebrew

On Goodreads, they have, on average, a rating of 4.11 stars and over 900k ratings. I’ve read 11 of these in the last two years, all of which I’d give 4.5 to 5 stars, and eight others I have sitting on my bookshelf waiting for the right moment. So I’d be hard-pressed to say this isn’t a good list.

The most suspect item, pointed out by many, is The Brothers Karamazov, at a door-stopping 845 pages (P&V translation at least). I read this in 2021 over 21 days in September. I don’t think you’d want to read it any faster than that, certainly not in one week. Let’s get into that next.

The schedule

The 23 books, according to Goodreads, come to 6,192 pages. About 272 pages per book. The schedule starts on Monday the 2nd of January and ends on Sunday the 4th of June, which gives us 154 reading days to work with. So we’re looking at – drumroll, please… 40 pages a day on average. That’s fun – exactly my 2021 reading rate.

At a moderate pace of, say, 150 words per minute (about the speed newsreaders talk), with about 300 words per page for a typical paperback – 40 pages a day will take about 82 minutes, about the length of The Long Night in season 8 of Game of Thrones. Let’s round it up. Call it an hour and a half per day. Maybe an hour before bed on weekdays and 3 hours a day on the weekend. Considering 55% of Americans spend 1 to 4 hours a day watching TV, that seems a reasonably ambitious and achievable New Year’s goal.

Here’s how long each book will take at 40 pages a day. The “Planned” column assumes one book a week, the “Expected” column assumes 40 pages a day, and the “Error” column is the difference in days:

Book Pages Days Planned Expected Error
1984 328 8 Jan 09 Jan 10 +1
Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy 216 5 Jan 16 Jan 15 -1
Brave New World 268 7 Jan 23 Jan 21 -2
The Stranger 123 3 Jan 30 Jan 24 -6
Meditations 256 6 Feb 06 Jan 31 -6
On the Road 293 7 Feb 13 Jan 07 -6
Foundation 244 5 Feb 20 Feb 13 -7
The Art of War 273 7 Feb 27 Feb 20 -7
Old Man and The Sea 99 2 Mar 06 Feb 22 -12
2001: A Space Odyssey 297 7 Mar 13 Mar 01 -12
Animal Farm 141 3 Mar 20 Mar 05 -15
Man’s Search for Meaning 165 4 Mar 27 Mar 09 -18
Sapiens 464 11 Apr 03 Mar 20 -14
Metamorphosis 126 3 Apr 10 Mar 25 -16
Hunger Artist 84 2 Apr 10 Mar 27 -14
The Plague 308 8 Apr 17 Apr 04 -13
Player of Games 293 7 Apr 24 Apr 4-11 -13
Fight Club 224 5 May 01 Apr 4-17 -14
The Little Prince 96 2 May 08 Apr 4-19 -9
The Brothers Karamazov 845 21 May 22 May 10 -5
Dune 658 16 May 29 May 29 0
Frankenstein 260 6 Jun 05 Jun 05 0

At 40 pages a day, the shortest, Little Prince, Hunger, and Old Man and the Sea would take only two days. That’s reasonable, heck – good luck not finishing Old man and the Sea in one sitting! Interestingly, The Brothers Karamazov will take 21 days, which matches my experience.

At 40 pages a day, 18 of the 23 books will take one week or less. Most books will take seven days to finish, which will also be the median time expected to finish a book. So this “one book a week” thing is feeling even more reasonable. And while Brothers Karamazov will take 21 days, many more will take no more than three.

We can compare the “one book per week” and “40 pages per day” schedules stacked side by side:

Final thoughts

Estimating is hard. While not perfect, scheduling one book a week is simple, easy to follow, and is equivalent the moderately ambitious reading goal of 40 pages a day. Certainly with the books in this.

It’s a fun tradition to share ambitious New Year’s resolutions. It’s good to write down goals, stick dates on them, and share them with others to keep ourselves honest. A book a week is a little ambitious, sure. But whether you set the bar high or low, you only tend to clear it by only a little. Heck, even if he gets through half of these, it would be great.

I’ll be cheering for him, as I would cheer for anyone reading ambitiously.

Desi Cochrane