As you know, I enjoy a long love affair with science. I particularly like scientific discoveries that have some connection to our everyday life, allowing us to extrapolate into other areas.
I recently ran into a post on the Daily Mail describing a clever research by a professor of mathematics: he checked which ebook sentences readers were highlighting on their Kindle. His assumption was that the if a reader had highlighted 2 sentences at the beginning and none after that, he/she had not read the book. If sentences towards the end were underlined, then it probably meant that the reader had read the whole book. Although it is not exactly hard science, it does give some pointers as to what people actually read and whether they finish their books.
Here are his findings:
A couple of items that sprung to my attention: the least read book was Hilary Clinton’s “Hard Choices” (only 1.9% of readers finished it). It seems it was a hard choice for most (heh heh, I kill me!) “The Capital” by Thomas Piketty was finished by only 2.4% of readers. After the hype and controversy surrounding Piketty’s methods and conclusions, this was a surprise. Even the Economist has dedicated a number of articles on this book, so it would be one of my choices to read. Now, as to whether I would finish it or not, I’ll take the Fifth.
Similarly, I was impressed to see that 25.9% of readers finished “Fifty shades of Grey”. I am among the 74.1% who never did, finding it boring and repetitive after reading a few pages. I am surprised to find out that I’m part of the majority. As to how this book has reached its prominent standing, I’m a guy, so I’m officially clueless. Something to do with women’s inner goddess, apparently.
At the same time, I was impressed that 28.3% of people actually finished “The Great Gatsby”. I thought that people didn’t like the classics, but obviously I am wrong. I read it years ago; it had left me with a melancholic but positive feeling.
So, you will ask, what do most people actually read? Well, 43.4% of readers finished “Catching Fire” from the Hunger Games series. And 98.5% of readers finished “The Goldfinch” by Donna Tartt. I haven’t read that one, but bearing in mind that it is 880 pages long and not a happy-chirpy-summer-reading kind of book, I think it’s worth checking out. The story seems quite dark but very appealing and Amazon readers say that they couldn’t put the book down and that there were many twists, while the ending moved them to tears.
Putting aside how smart I think this research was, it made me consider how many books I actually read from beginning to end. Since most of my reading nowadays is by Indie friends and/or beta-reading, I finish most of the books I start. I have this compulsive approach whereby I need to finish the things I start. I am not sure whether it’s very healthy or obsessive and neurotic – it’s hard to decide.
In my attempt to find out, I just asked my wife whether she finishes all the books she starts. She shot me a surprised look which read “seriously? No!” Apparently, if she finds that the book is not what she expects and/or considers it boring, she just drops it. In her defense, she might give it another try later on: she claims that books, like music, are to be read according to the mood you are in, and sometimes her mood simply does not coincide with the book she has chosen. So, she doesn’t discredit a book unless she has attempted to read it at least twice. After that, she doesn’t bother and the book goes back to its shelf to die a peaceful and very honorable death. I have suggested that perhaps the books that didn’t pass their second reading could be given away to charity, but I got the same surprised look that, again, read “Why don’t we give you away to charity?” Which is why we need a bigger house.
Anyway, all this led me to ponder: how would the maths professor accommodate for the people that do not finish their books in their first attempt but might finish them at some other time? Would “Hard Choices” or “The Capital” convince more people upon a second reading?
Yeah, I didn’t think so either…
PS Disregard the part about whether ebooks are included (I reread the post and realized it’s Kindle data).
Thanks for your interesting post! I too wonder what the source of the data collecting was and whether indie authors and ebooks are represented equitably. I also wonder what percent of readers highlight while they read.
I agree with Electra about only reading a book that holds some interest. Often with non fiction books if there’s a chapter that interests me less or not at all I can skip forward and likewise reread those sections that are particularly appealing. This isn’t the case for fiction so I dedicate extra time to selecting a book and author, especially since these days my reading time is so limited.
Most of my reading time nowadays is taken by reading friend’s books, so it’s usually very enjoyable. Who knew I’d never want for reading material after becoming an author?? One of the unexpected perks of the job! 😀
I try to read a book to the end. Sometimes I just can’t.
Well, that’s the thing: it shouldn’t have to be a chore! 😀
I rarely fail to finish a book unless it is absolutely boring. Actually, for me 50 Shades did fall into that category – but to each his own, hey? 😀
This was interesting – thanks.
So, you started it but never finished? That seems to be the consensus around here. I wonder if it is because most of us are writers (yes, yourself included) 😉
As for me, I never actually started it, but did grab a friend’s copy and flicked through it. I must have read some 15′ worth of it before my eyes glazed. Just because I failed to see the appeal, of course, does not mean there is none. At least for 25% of readers! 🙂
Well, Nicholas, my sister – and I have great respect for her – mentioned that she’d finished the books and they were a great ‘beach read’ and that I would enjoy them. Well, for once, she was wrong. I don’t want to badmouth another writer, especially one who is very successful, but I wasn’t too keen on the writing or the story.
I’m a huge reader, and my reading is diverse. This story just didn’t cut it for me. I skimmed through the first book, and never bothered with the other two. Most people I speak with, however, don’t share my opinion. 🙂
I’m the type who rarely doesn’t finish a book. Either I love it and have to finish it, or if it’s not so good I can’t abandon it as I hope it will improve and make it worthwhile. A book has to be really bad to make me stop reading and I have to say that hasn’t happened that often. However, there are certain books that I simply will not begin because I strongly believe that will not suit me, of which 50 Shades is a fine example and I am female:)
“Either I love it and have to finish it, or if it’s not so good I can’t abandon it as I hope it will improve and make it worthwhile” – I love so much your optimistic outlook!!! 😀
Yep, unfortunately I have to admit my optimism doesn’t always work out, though my perseverance has proved true enough that I don’t regret my attitude:)
I never waste my time on books like 50 Shades of Grey. There are a lot of genres I never read, and I never read a book just because it’s a bestseller. Now, The Great Gatsby is wonderful; I read it recently and had no trouble finishing it. It totally absorbed me. Most of the time I finish the books I start, as a matter of principle. Yet I confess. even though I’m a big fan of Robert Graves, I couldn’t get through his memoir, Goodbye to All That.,even though it’s supposed to be one of the great memoirs of all times. I just found it tedious.
With so many books around, that’s a good idea. Avoid genres you’re not crazy about and drop any tedious books 🙂
I’m with you, Nicholas, when it comes to finishing what I’ve started. That’s why I actually read and saw ALL of the Twilight books/movies. My wife strong-armed me in to reading book 1. That’s it for me. I can’t put a series down (when there’s an actual “ending”).
Oh my – I sympathize! 😀
The first paragraph in 50 Shades made me wince. The writing is terrible but I forced myself to read most of it. Nope. Did NOT finish it. I used to make an effort to finished every book I started. I’ve changed; I no longer force myself to the bitter end if I’m not entertained.
My first question when I began reading this post was about access to ebook readers. How do you come up with numbers when you weren’t handed them?
I guess that life is too short for bad books! 😀
Sally raised a similar point. Sadly, the article did not mention his methodology, but I can only assume he had access to Amazon’s data – not the actual keywords, but how many of them were in what part of the book.
Good question. 😮
For some reason, I’m not surprise about ’50 Shades’. That doesn’t make it any less cringe-worthy. Guessing erotic fluff will trump a lot of more serious books. One question I would have on that one: How many people read it beginning to end simply for a laugh?
I really don’t know. I have witnessed conversations at shops where women would recommend it very highly to each other. I think it’s a book that spoke to many readers, for whatever reason, even if authors/writers hated it.
Very strange. I’ve yet to meet someone who loved that series. Everyone I know mocks or hates it. Though the hating seems to be a bit over the top. On the other end of the spectrum, I’ve never heard any of my friends talk about ‘Hard Choices’. That sounds like a crime thriller staring Tom Selleck for some reason.
Everyone *I* know is simply green with envy at her success (myself included)! 😀
Yeah. I’ll admit to that.
I mostly love your posts, and this is one of them! I am also a science fan and a researcher, myself, so I have several questions I would pose to this mathematician: 1) How did he get access to people’s ereaders to see what they highlighted? If I knew someone was about to check that, I might change my highlightings! 2) I am skeptical about that as an indicator of having finished a book. My reading methods have changed dramatically over the years. I no longer “finish” most books unless they are VERY good and compelling as well as good writing. So, when the author or the story interests me enough even to open a book, I read a few pages or chapters, then skip to the end to see what s/he does with that. That is all I “read.” 3) Not having mastered my ereader enough to highlight, NONE of my books would ever be highlighted, so what about that? 4) Where are the sci-fi books? fantasy? Not liking his paltry sampling. Why so limited? 5) what are the dmographics of these readers? how “representative” are they of all readers with ereaders? And, 6) how representative are those with ereaders of all readers?
Best to you!
Best to you.
Wow, I love your analytic mind! I really wish I had an answer to your questions; sadly, the methodology was not covered in the post I read.
I don’t know if he had access to the actual contents of the highlights (Amazon does, of course), but if he did, he would be very surprised at mine: I usually highlight when I beta read, so it’s always typos, memorable expressions and points where I want to raise questions with the author…
I’m also with your wife although I used to be a little like you and feel I had to read something I wasn’t enjoying to the bitter end. Then I realised that life is far too short and will now drop such a book like a stone. As for Fifty Shades of Grey, I clearly have no inner goddess and won’t have it even mentioned in my presence!
Lol – I’m a guy, so no inner goddess there, but perhaps you could start a club with Electra – the “inner goddess haters club” 😀
Ha! Love it that your wife is called Electra. Inner goddess haters club sounds like an excellent idea. 🙂
Thanks! She’s great (just like me, only better – and please don’t tell her I said that!) 😀
Hard choices is a bollocks name for a book anyway. But I’m with your wife, partly. I have several books on the go at once and depending on what mood I’m in I’ll read the one that fits. Every now and again I get so into one that I drop the others for a day or two to finish it. But being a bear of very little time it’s easy to dip in and out because I seldom have the time to get really into one narrative. I am like you though in that I believe I must finish the books I start, if at all possible. Except 50 shades. I managed the first book abut about 30% into the second I just realised that there were phrases she used again and again which were becoming like white noise. So I stopped.
Please don’t feed the competition in our house by agreeing with both of us! 😀
I used to read multiple books at a time, but that changed with Kindle. For some reason, I find it hard to switch from one book to another on it. If it had an alt-tab facility, I believe I’d pick up the habit again in no time, though.
Mwah ha haahrgh! But I do!