Did you buy Donna Tartt’s Pulitzer prize winning novel, The Goldfinch? Did you know it was 400 pages? Did you make it to the end? How far did you get?
According to a study recently commissioned by the ebook seller Kobo, only 44% people actually finished The Goldfinch after buying it from Kobo. I would be also interested to know how many people haven’t even started the novel in the first place. I have always had more books than I have been able to read and the fact doesn’t stop me from buying more.
Solomon Northup’s Twelve Years a Slave fared even worse with only 28% of readers finishing the novel. But then this one isn’t a surprise. They bought the book after watching the film which would do nothing to increase the motivation to read for most, even though the commonly slung adage ‘the book is better than the film’ has held true for almost every film adaptation I’ve seen.
Interestingly, the book that had the highest completion ratio was Casey Kelleher’s self-published thriller Rotten to the Core (given the success it is no wonder Kelleher is getting a book deal).
The problem with any set of statistics is context. A well-paced thriller is going to have more readers than a Pulitizer prize winning novel and of course, a self-published novel with a lower number of readers who have had to find the novel in the first place is likely to have greater number of committed readers than a widely advertised bestseller which is going to have a higher number of impulse purchases.
The comparison is unjust.
Now I’m not saying that Tartt is an amazing author or that the Booker and Pulitizer aren’t without inbred assumptions about quality. Tartt has her strengths, one of which is the ability to provide challenging and complex situations. And I’m not saying that Kelleher isn’t able to weave an engaging thriller. What we are talking about is two different types of reading.
I can’t count how many novels I have read quickly because they had pace and action and then a couple of months later couldn’t tell you anything important about the novel. It was a thrill ride, which is very different from the challenging books that have stayed with me. The kind of book that was less like a rollercoaster and more like an interesting lecture. These books have not always been easy, but these are the books I have kept. As opposed to the books I have deleted after finishing or given away. The challenging books are the one I keep and want to read again. Is The Goldfinch a keeper and Rotten to the Core and deleter? Maybe, maybe not, but they represent the kind of scope that needs to be read and are not comparable with statistics.
My zen moment for the day:
A Bestseller does not necessarily mean a good reading and an easy read isn’t necessarily intellectually and emotionally challenging, but there is room for both on your bookshelf, or your kobo.