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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:

by Daily Mail

by the Daily Mail

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…

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