Tuesday, August 5, 2014

The Hawking Index

There are certain books on our "must read" list. Books it seems like everyone else is reading (ahem, The Goldfinch). Books that will make us look well-read. Books we've been told will change our lives.

Finally, we find the time to read these books. We pick them up, read a few (or a hundred) pages, and set them down. Later down the road we may valiantly try again, but they will probably remain half-read, doomed to our "I meant to read" or "I tried to get through but couldn't" list.

We've all done this for different reasons, and we've all felt guilty about it. But now there's (unscientific) proof that we're not alone! Math professor Jordan Ellenberg has provided us with an entertaining method to get a sense of how far people are reading by looking at a Kindle book's top highlighted passages. He calls it the Hawking Index (named for Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time):

"Amazon's "Popular Highlights" feature provides one quick and dirty measure. Every book's Kindle page lists the five passages most highlighted by readers. If every reader is getting to the end, those highlights could be scattered throughout the length of the book. If nobody has made it past the introduction, the popular highlights will be clustered at the beginning."

Here are some of his findings:

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt : 98.5%

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins : 43.4%

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald : 28.3%

Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James: 25.9%

A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking: 6.6%

Capital in the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Piketty : 2.4%

At abcreads, we have some books we're guilty of not finishing (we're getting to them!). Here's what makes our list:

The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy

Middlemarch by George Eliot

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

The Iliad by Homer

Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace (Ellenberg addresses this book and more in his blog)

What books are on your "I tried" list?

For more, check out NPR and the Chicago Tribune.

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