We know how many books are bought, also how many books are recommended or, according to surveys, which books are liked more or less. But reading, like any other activity, can also be a mark of distinction, so many pose as readers when in fact they are not.
Jordan Ellenberg , a mathematician at the University of Wisconsin, was curious how many people actually finish the books they start to read.
It depends on the book
Far from scrutinizing glances and social appearances, in reality the most difficult or dense books are those that are largely unfinished. Ellenberg pulled the information from Amazon’s Big Data , which reports how many people quote different phrases from books.
So the frequencies with which the sentences at the beginning and at the end are quoted were compared, in order to get a rough idea of the readers’ propensity to finish the book. That is, he took the average of the page numbers from the five most prominent passages in the book and divided them by the total number of pages.
The resulting figure is a rough measure of how far Kindle readers have come through e-books. Some curious facts that he extracted in this regard with the following (and that suggest that people do not usually finish the books of economists):
- 90% of readers completed the novel The Goldfinch , by Donna Tart .
- 7% completed Think Fast, Think Slow , by Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman in economics.
- 3% finished Capital in the 21st Century , by economist Thomas Piketty . Few readers have ventured beyond page 26 of the volume, which is 685 pages long.
They are three books that have been sold a lot but that, nevertheless, are not read in the same way . In the end, what matters to the author is that the book is sold, but surely assuming that almost no one finishes their books must be a good blow to their self-esteem (or a way of considering the average reader as a poor devil).
Still, Ellenberg admits that the method of evaluating reading habits in this way "is unscientific and is for entertainment purposes only."