There was an interesting article in The Daily Telegraph on July 8th which was subtitled: “‘I couldn’t put it down . . . Holidays are not the time and place to read books that you think you ought to read’, says A N Wilson. So, yes, leave Thomas Piketty at home.”
Wikipedia informs me that “Andrew Norman Wilson (born 27 October 1950) is an English writer and newspaper columnist, known for his critical biographies, novels, works of popular history and religious views. He is an occasional columnist for the Daily Mail and former columnist for the London Evening Standard, and has been an occasional contributor to the Times Literary Supplement, New Statesman, The Spectator and The Observer.”
Mr Wilson says that “there is a revealing and amusing survey that has been conducted by a maths professor for the Wall Street Journal. It is based on the ‘popular highlights’ chosen by users of the Amazon Kindle and comes up with a list of the summer’s ‘most un-read books’. In the past when we only read books in book form, it was impossible to know, scientifically, how far the average reader had penetrated into , say, Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time – an impenetrable work, which it is sometimes tempting to believe that no one, except, perhaps, the book’s original copy-editor, has ever read to the end. But now that so many of us read books on Kindle, it is possible to make an educated guess about how far the average reader has got.
“Each best-selling book’s Kindle page lists the five passages most highlighted by readers. These extracts, designed to whet the appetite of other Kindle users, would – if they represented a thorough reading of the works considered – surely contain quotations from the whole book, and not just from the first few pages. Jordan Ellerberg has come up with a playful ‘Hawking Index’ with which to estimate how much of a book most people have read. The top five ‘highlights’ from Donna Tartt’s novel The Goldfinch, for example, all come from the final 20 pages of the book, which suggests that 98.5 percent of readers made it to the end. Highlights from Michael Lewis’ page-turning analysis of financial sharp practice, Flash Boys, suggest most people only read the first 21.7 percent of the book.
“And how about the book we of the Chattering Classes are all supposed to be reading and talking about this year – the French economist Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century? Here the quotes do not dig deeper into his 700 pages than a pathetic 2.4 percent – in other words, Piketty, the great economic sage of our time, is as unread as Hawking, our greatest scientific sage.
Wilson goes on to observe that, for most of us, a holiday is a time of relaxation with the distractions of children, sightseeing, family and friends. He says, “Many is the thick paperback edition of some supposedly ‘great book’ that either gets left behind in the rented villa or hotel, or comes back home with only its first 30 pages smudged with sun-tan lotion. The idea that this should induce ‘guilt’ is absurd. Although to be as well-read as possible is a sort of duty of any intelligent person, this does not mean that it is a duty to read Plato’s Republic on a beach, or Proust by the poolside.”
Wilson says that the best sort of holiday reading is short. In this case, he would probably recommend taking Hemingway’s short stories along, and I would agree. In my view, the best summer reading is something that keeps inviting us back, all the while keeping us interested.
Of my own works, I would recommend Sin and Contrition (there’s a different sin in every chapter, and a discussion with the sinners at the end). Or Efraim’s Eye or The Iranian Scorpion (both are unique thrillers).