Walking past the three for two table.

I was reading a recent edition of The Bookseller the other day and looking at the lists of bestsellers. Then I thought of the books in Mt TBR and those I have already read this year, wondering if there were any similarities at all. Obviously I can only count those books that I have bought new (or were bought to give to me) so I have excluded library books and books I bought second hand.

I discovered that there are thirty-six books I have read or will read that I have bought new. Not a single one is in the top 50 bestsellers. In fact, not a single one of these books is in any of the charts – top 20 original fiction, top 20 mass market fiction, top 20 heatseekers, top 20 hardback non-fiction, top 20 paperback non-fiction, top 20 children’s books. Obviously, since I have bought these books over a period of some months going back to ahem, last year, I would not expect there to be a direct correlation with the current charts, but I did think there would be perhaps one or two in there.

If I add in the library books I have read this year there is one difference – ‘The Historian’, currently riding high in the chart is there. I didn’t think much of it, so I’m glad I didn’t waste my money and buy it.

Even going back a few months, the situation doesn’t change much, checking copies of The Bookseller from January and May, ‘The Historian‘ is still the only one on any of the lists.

In fact, looking at the bestseller charts, the only other book on them that I have read at all is Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, which I read last year.

What is the point of this? I read somewhere recently that the booktrade definition of a heavy reader is someone who reads four books a year. I presume that makes someone like me the equivalent of twenty-five heavy readers. Twenty-five heavy readers, moreover who could care less about bestsellers, but who care passionately about the long tail because that’s where they find their reading material.

While it is wrong to try and extrapolate from a single example, I doubt I am alone among ultra heavy readers. Since I don’t know the proportion of total book sales that come from bestsellers, I can’t really draw any conclusions, but it struck me, while flicking through The Bookseller, just how idiosyncratic my reading tastes are.

Am I really that unusual?

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6 responses to “Walking past the three for two table.

  1. I don’t think so… I’m about fifteen heavy readers at the moment but twenty-five heavy readers is probably my “normal” state. I’m shocked to see that reading four books a week is considered “heavy reading”. I remember reading four books a week when I was a kid and not finding that too taxing (I would now though!)

    I also think I read quite widely but I remember having a similar experience to you a few years ago when I read the bestseller list in a Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook. I had not read a single book on it, and was quite alarmed by this. I decided to read more “current” books but it looks like my plan failed because browsing the Bookseller’s bestseller list tonight I’ve read none of the top 30 and only 3 in the top 50. Only one of those I bought new (and OK, I confess, it was Angels and Demons by Dan Brown!) The list does scream “3 for 2 table”, doesn’t it? I’ve often wondered who decides what gets onto the 3 for 2 table. I wish it was me.

  2. I’m about twenty-five heavy readers, too. When I look at the best-seller lists, I generally find I’ve read two or three of them. Which means I’ve read the same as the average reader – PLUS all the others that I’ve discovered in the dustiest corners of Abebooks or whatever. I do try not to live TOTALLY in the past. I often look out a recent novel to read on holiday.

  3. Helen, my understanding is that publishers pay to be on the three for two table.

    George, I hadn’t thought of it like that – by reading one book from the bestseller lists I’m no different from most light readers, it’s just I read all this other stuff too.

  4. green_knight

    If there’s twenty-five heavy readers sharing my library, it’s no wonder it’s such a mess…

    I’ve read quite a few of the current bestseller list (including the Historian and the Time-Traveller’s Wife) but the only one that stuck was Joanne Harris; everything else was an entirely forgettable experience that I do not care to repeat. (I read two chapters of the Historian, speed-read the rest, and found it entirely too predictable.)

    My relationship with bestseller lists is better than yours, though – I autobuy Terry Pratchett…

  5. I don’t think you’re unusual. I’ve hardly ever read any of the bestsellers, but I must read over 50 novels a year. I think that if you read a lot you end up needing a different kind of kick from the one that a mass-market bestseller can give you.

  6. Very true, litlove. I can’t read too many medieval detectives in a year otherwise they just blur into one another, and the vibe on a fantasy series has got to be very good before I will even pick it up. Sometimes I just need something that little bit more challenging – a nice history I can get my teeth into for example.

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