Books are delightful as they are – don’t fall in the trap of competitive reading



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arek_malang/Shutterstock

Sally O’Reilly, The Open University

My happiest times in childhood were spent reading the books of E. Nesbit, C.S. Lewis and Joan Aiken. Preferring to read in hidden corners where nobody could find me, I immersed myself completely in these stories and believed utterly in their magic, even attempting to enter Narnia via the portal of my grandmother’s wardrobe. As an adult, I still call myself a passionate reader, but sometimes feel as if I’ve lost my way compared to my childhood self. I buy vast quantities of books, talk about books, read as many as possible, sometimes even write them – but it’s not often I find that same pure immersion in an imagined world which has been such a lasting inspiration.

Celebrations like World Book day promote children’s reading and remind us all of the pleasures of a good book. Many of us make resolutions to read more, but these days there’s increasing pressure to read the “right” thing. The adult world presents a constant temptation to turn every activity into a competitive sport, and reading is no exception: it is beset with targets, hierarchies and categorisations. We guilt-read chick-lit and crime, skim-read for book groups and improvement-read from book prize shortlists.

Underpinning this is a relentless quest for self-improvement, demonstrated by the popularity of reading challenges, in which readers set themselves individual book consumption targets. On Good Reads, some participants have modest goals, others aim for as many as 190 in the year, which translates to 15.8 books a month, 3.6 a week or just over half a book each day. Impressive? Maybe, but others are reading even faster. One journalist recently embarked on a seven day social media detox and read a dozen books in that time. It’s a far cry from my days with Mr Tumnus.

A profound joy

This raises a fundamental question: why do we read at all? Do we want to enjoy books, or download them into our brains? Are we so obsessed with being able to tick a book title off a check-list that we risk forgetting that reading is a physical and emotional activity as well as an intellectual one? The perceived benefits of reading are often given more attention than the experience itself: campaigners tend to stress its utilitarian value and research findings that it increases empathy and even life expectancy.

But the reading experience is important. A sure sign of loving a book is slowing down when you come to the final pages, reluctant to leave the world it creates behind. As the UK reading agency puts it, “in addition to its substantial practical benefits, reading is one of life’s profound joys”. Children seem to know this intuitively, and engage fully with a story, often to the exclusion of all else. They are demanding, honest readers, more interested in what happens in a tale and where it takes them than whether it’s a Carnegie prize-winner.

When was the last time you truly got lost in a book?
Amanda Carden/Shutterstock

Slow reading

As an adult, it is possible to recapture that immersive involvement with a book. What we need is the opportunity to focus entirely on the words, and a willingness to ignore stress-inducing challenges and targets. When I was writing my second novel I lived in Barcelona for a year, day-job free. During that time I read just six books, one of them Joseph Conrad’s The Secret Agent. At a recent writing retreat, I spent two hours a day reading Michel Faber’s The Crimson Petal and the White. I engaged completely with these novels, forgetting the outside world, and they have stayed with me, their characters and plot twists vivid and familiar when other books, read hurriedly in snatches amid distractions, have faded from my mind.

I’m not alone in seeing the value of immersive, non-competitive reading. In a recent Guardian article, author Sarah Waters admitted to feeling out of the loop when current writing is discussed. Asked which book she is “most ashamed not to have read” (a telling phrase), she responded, “Anything people are currently raving about. I’m a slow reader, and I read old books as often as new ones, so I always feel like a hopeless failure when it comes to keeping up with brand new titles”.

There are already advocates of slow living, and a cultural shift toward slowing down life’s pace, savouring experience and rediscovering human connection. Perhaps it is time for this to encompass reading too. 184,000 books are published each year in the UK alone, and we’re not going to make much of a dent in that pile even if we read 12 books a week. Indeed, no matter how fast we read, the vast majority of books will remain unknown to us. If there is one skill that adult readers can usefully learn from children, it is that of reading purely for pleasure.The Conversation

Sally O’Reilly, Lecturer in Creative Writing, The Open University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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How To Buy Kindle Books on iOS Devices


The link below is to an article that takes a look at how yo buy Kindle books on iOS (Apple) devices.

For more visit:
https://bookriot.com/2019/01/16/how-to-buy-kindle-books-on-iphone/

Books: why the Internet hasn’t killed them off



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The thousand and one lives of the paper book.
Pixabay

Dominique Boullier, Sciences Po – USPC; Mariannig Le Béchec, Université Claude Bernard Lyon 1, and Maxime Crépel, Sciences Po – USPC

We stand amazed by the vitality of printed books, a more than 500-year-old technique, both on and offline. We have observed over the years all of the dialogue which books have created around themselves, through 150 interviews with readers, bookshops, publishers, bloggers, library assistants, 25 participant observations, 750 responses to an online questionnaire and 5,000 mapped sites in France and the francophone world. An impressive collective activity. So, yes, your book carries on living just by staying on your shelf because you talk about it, remember it, and refer to it in conversation. Even better still, you might have lent it to a friend so that she can read it, perhaps you have spent time with people who have spoken about it before buying it, or after having read it. You will have encountered official reviews, of course, and also blogs about it. The conversation goes on even when the book is no longer in circulation.

Paper books circulate better than their digital versions

What first struck us was the very active circulation of books in print, compared with digital versions which do not spread so well. Once a book has been sold either in a bookshop or through an online platform, it has multiple lives. It can be loaned, given as a present, but also sold on second-hand, online or in specialist shops. And it can go full circle and be resold, such journeys made in a book’s life are rarely taken into account by the overall evaluation of the publication.

The application Bookcrossing allows you to follow books that we “abandon” or “set free” by chance in public places so that strangers take possession of and, then, you hope, get in touch to keep track of the book’s journey. Elsewhere, the book will be left in an open-access “book box” which have popped up across France and other countries. Some websites have become experts in selling second-hand books like Recyclivre, which uses Amazon to gain visibility.

Yard sales, antiques fairs, book markets give a new lease of life to countless books which remained forgotten because they were a quick one-time read. The book as a material object, regardless of its age, retains an unequalled sensorial pleasure, and brings with it special memories, bygone times, a sacred piece of craftsmanship with its fragile bindings, or, the nostalgia offered by children’s books or fairy tales.

Whole professions are dedicated to the web, and increasingly so, since it first came into existence. This has turned the second life of books and the recycling of them into a money-making machine for online retailers, and as a result books are kept alive. Some people have become eBay sellers, experts only thanks to the books they sell on this platform. Sometimes even, these books’ lives are extended by charity shops, such as Oxfam. At some stage however, there is only the paper left to give a book its value, once it has been battered and recycled.

One would have thought that faced with the weight, volume, and physical space occupied by books in print, that the digital book ought to have wiped the floor with its print counterpart. This has been the case with online music, for example, which practically handed a death sentence to the CD, or for films on demand which have greatly shrunk the DVD market. However, for books, this simply has not happened. In the United States like in France, the market for online books never surpasses the 20% mark of the sales revenues of books in print. And that is without including the sales revenue of the second-hand book market as we previously mentioned. The digital book seldom goes anywhere once purchased, due to controls imposed on the files by digital-rights management (DRM) and the incompatibility of their formats on other digital devices (Kindle and others).

Paper pleasures

Our interviews revealed the pleasure of giving books as presents, but also of lending them. The exchange of the physical item with its cover, size and unique smell bring much more satisfaction than if a well-meaning friend offers you digital book files on a USB stick containing… a thousand files already downloaded! Indeed, the latter will seldom ever be considered a present but rather a simple file transfer, equivalent to what we do several times a day at work. This also gives rights holders reasons to thus decry “not paying is theft”, in this case the gift of files would also become theft.

Bloggers who exchange books as presents (bookswapping) show that goodwill prevails and puts stress on the backburner. This is done on the condition that the book is personalised in some way: a poignant quote, a meaningful object associated in some way with the book (cakes for example!), and the surprise of receiving a completely random gesture of kindness.

A dense and thriving network reliant on the Internet

What travels even better than books are conversations, opinions, critiques, recommendations. Some discussions are created within or around reading groups or in dedicated forums online such as the Orange Network Library, for example. There are recommended reading lists, readers’ ratings, and book signings with authors are organised. These networks are digital, but they existed well before the Internet, and they remain dynamic today.

On Instagram and other sites, books start up fresh conversations.

However, the rise of blogs at the start of the 2000s led to an increase in the number of reviews by ordinary people. This provided visibility, even a reputation for some bloggers. Of course, institutional and newsworthy reviews continue to play their role in guiding the masses, and they are influential prescribers protected by publishers. But websites like Babelio, combine a popular expertise, shared and distributed among many bloggers who are sometimes very specialised themselves. The website was created in 2007 and has over 690,000 reader members.

The proliferation of content and publications can easily disorientate us; the role of these passionate bloggers, who are often experts in given literary fields, becomes important because they are “natural” influencers one might say, as they are the closest to the public. However, some publishers have understood the benefits of working with these bloggers, especially in so far as concerns specialist genres like manga, comics, crime novels or youth fiction. Sometimes a blogger, YouTuber and web writer is published like Nine Gorman.

Some bookshops contribute even more directly in coordinating these bookworms, they “mould” their audience, or at least they support the books both online and in their shops with face-to-face meetings. Conversation is a unifying force for fans who are undoubtedly the best broadcasters across a broad sphere.

Platforms encourage readers to expand their domain, in the guise of fanfictions, which are published online by the author or his readers. The relationship with authors is closer than ever and is much more direct, the same can be said of the music industry. On particular platforms like Wattpad, texts which are made available are linked with collective commentary.

But above all, the dialogue about reading has often been transformed into writing itself. It might be published on a blog and may be likened to authorial work but at the other end of the spectrum, it might be something modest like the annotations one leaves in their own book. These annotations, more common in non-fiction texts, can form a sort of trade. For example if you lend or sell on a book, which is also stocked and shared with the online systems of Hypothes.is, it allows any article found on the web to be annotated, and the comments saved independent to the display format of the article. This makes it easier to organise readers into groups.

Printed books have in fact become digital through the use of digital platforms which allow them to be circulated as an object or as conversations about the book. The collective attention paid creates a permanent and collaborative piece of work, very different to frenetic posts on social media. Readers take their time to read, a different type of engagement altogether to social media’s high frequency, rapid exchanges. The combination of these differently paced interactions can, though, encourage one just to read through alerts from social media posts then followed by a longer form of reading.

Networks formed by books constitute as well a major resource for attracting attention. This is still not a substitute for the effects of “prize season” which guides the mass readership, but which deserves to be considered more critically, given the fact that publishers increasingly take advantage of these active communities.

It would thus be possible to think of the digital book as part of the related book ecosystem, rather than treating it as just a clone. To call it homothetic, is to say that it is an exact recreation of the format and properties of the book in print in a digital format. Let’s imagine multimedia books connected to, and permanently engaged with, the dialogue surrounding the book – this would be something else entirely, affording added value which would justify the current retail price for simple files. This would therefore be an “access book” and which would perhaps attract a brand new audience and above all it would widen this collective creativity already present around books in print.


Dominique Boullier, Mariannig Le Béchec and Maxime Crépel are the authors of “The book exchange: Books’ lives and readers’ practices.”The Conversation

Dominique Boullier, Professeur des universités en sociologie, Sciences Po – USPC; Mariannig Le Béchec, Maître de Conférences en Sciences de l’Information et de la Communication, Université Claude Bernard Lyon 1, and Maxime Crépel, Sociologue, ingénieur de recherche au médialab de Sciences Po, Sciences Po – USPC

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

What’s behind our appetite for self-destruction?



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There seems be an attractive quality to things that are ostensibly unhealthy or dangerous.
Alisusha/Shutterstock.com

Mark Canada, Indiana University and Christina Downey, Indiana University

Each new year, people vow to put an end to self-destructive habits like smoking, overeating or overspending.

And how many times have we learned of someone – a celebrity, a friend or a loved one – who committed some self-destructive act that seemed to defy explanation? Think of the criminal who leaves a trail of evidence, perhaps with the hope of getting caught, or the politician who wins an election, only to start sexting someone likely to expose him.

Why do they do it?

Edgar Allan Poe, one of America’s greatest – and most self-destructive – writers, had some thoughts on the subject. He even had a name for the phenomenon: “perverseness.” Psychologists would later take the baton from Poe and attempt to decipher this enigma of the human psyche.

Irresistible depravity

In one of his lesser-known works, “The Imp of the Perverse,” Poe argues that knowing something is wrong can be “the one unconquerable force” that makes us do it.

It seems that the source of this psychological insight was Poe’s own life experience. Orphaned before he was three years old, he had few advantages. But despite his considerable literary talents, he consistently managed to make his lot even worse.

He frequently alienated editors and other writers, even accusing poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow of plagiarism in what has come to be known as the “Longfellow war.” During important moments, he seemed to implode: On a trip to Washington, D.C. to secure support for a proposed magazine and perhaps a government job, he apparently drank too much and made a fool of himself.

According to Edgar Allen Poe, knowing something is wrong can make it irresistible.
Wikimedia Commons

After nearly two decades of scraping out a living as an editor and earning little income from his poetry and fiction, Poe finally achieved a breakthrough with “The Raven,” which became an international sensation after its publication in 1845.

But when given the opportunity to give a reading in Boston and capitalize on this newfound fame, Poe didn’t read a new poem, as requested.

Instead, he reprised a poem from his youth: the long-winded, esoteric and dreadfully boring “Al Aaraaf,” renamed “The Messenger Star.”

As one newspaper reported, “it was not appreciated by the audience,” evidenced by “their uneasiness and continual exits in numbers at a time.”

Poe’s literary career stalled for the remaining four years of his short life.

Freud’s ‘death drive’

While “perverseness” wrecked Poe’s life and career, it nonetheless inspired his literature.

It figures prominently in “The Black Cat,” in which the narrator executes his beloved cat, explaining, “I…hung it with the tears streaming from my eyes, and with the bitterest remorse at my heart…hung it because I knew that in so doing I was committing a sin – a deadly sin that would so jeopardise my immortal soul as to place it – if such a thing were possible – even beyond the reach of the infinite mercy of the Most Merciful and Most Terrible God.”

Why would a character knowingly commit “a deadly sin”? Why would someone destroy something that he loved?

Was Poe onto something? Did he possess a penetrating insight into the counterintuitive nature of human psychology?

A half-century after Poe’s death, Sigmund Freud wrote of a universal and innate “death drive” in humans, which he called “Thanatos” and first introduced in his landmark 1919 essay “Beyond the Pleasure Principle.”

Sigmund Freud wrote of a universal death drive, which he dubbed ‘Thanatos.’
Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA

Many believe Thanatos refers to unconscious psychological urges toward self-destruction, manifested in the kinds of inexplicable behavior shown by Poe and – in extreme cases – in suicidal thinking.

In the early 1930s, physicist Albert Einstein wrote to Freud to ask his thoughts on how further war might be prevented. In his response, Freud wrote that Thanatos “is at work in every living creature and is striving to bring it to ruin and to reduce life to its original condition of inanimate matter” and referred to it as a “death instinct.”

To Freud, Thanatos was an innate biological process with significant mental and emotional consequences – a response to, and a way to relieve, unconscious psychological pressure.

Toward a modern understanding

In the 1950s, the psychology field underwent the “cognitive revolution,” in which researchers started exploring, in experimental settings, how the mind operates, from decision-making to conceptualization to deductive reasoning.

Self-defeating behavior came to be considered less a cathartic response to unconscious drives and more the unintended result of deliberate calculus.

In 1988, psychologists Roy Baumeister and Steven Scher identified three main types of self-defeating behavior: primary self-destruction, or behavior designed to harm the self; counterproductive behavior, which has good intentions but ends up being accidentally ineffective and self-destructive; and trade-off behavior, which is known to carry risk to the self but is judged to carry potential benefits that outweigh those risks.

Think of drunk driving. If you knowingly consume too much alcohol and get behind the wheel with the intent to get arrested, that’s primary self-destruction. If you drive drunk because you believe you’re less intoxicated than your friend, and – to your surprise – get arrested, that’s counterproductive. And if you know you’re too drunk to drive, but you drive anyway because the alternatives seem too burdensome, that’s a trade-off.

Baumeister and Scher’s review concluded that primary self-destruction has actually rarely been demonstrated in scientific studies.

Rather, the self-defeating behavior observed in such research is better categorized, in most cases, as trade-off behavior or counterproductive behavior. Freud’s “death drive” would actually correspond most closely to counterproductive behavior: The “urge” toward destruction isn’t consciously experienced.

Finally, as psychologist Todd Heatherton has shown, the modern neuroscientific literature on self-destructive behavior most frequently focuses on the functioning of the prefrontal cortex, which is associated with planning, problem solving, self-regulation and judgment.

When this part of the brain is underdeveloped or damaged, it can result in behavior that appears irrational and self-defeating. There are more subtle differences in the development of this part of the brain: Some people simply find it easier than others to engage consistently in positive goal-directed behavior.

Poe certainly didn’t understand self-destructive behavior the way we do today.

But he seems to have recognized something perverse in his own nature. Before his untimely death in 1849, he reportedly chose an enemy, the editor Rufus Griswold, as his literary executor.

True to form, Griswold wrote a damning obituary and “Memoir,” in which he alludes to madness, blackmail and more, helping to formulate an image of Poe that has tainted his reputation to this day.

Then again, maybe that’s exactly what Poe – driven by his own personal imp – wanted.The Conversation

Mark Canada, Executive Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs, Indiana University and Christina Downey, Professor of Psychology, Indiana University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Ten great Australian beach reads set at the beach



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The beach is a common setting for Australian novels, which often capture its darker side.
boxer_bob/flickr, CC BY-NC-ND

Liz Ellison, CQUniversity Australia

Australians flock to the beach over the summer holidays: Bondi alone had 2.9 million visitors in 2017 – 2018. But while tourism campaigns often portray the beach as an idyllic, isolated haven, many of our beach stories depict it as a darker, more crowded and complex place.

Here are ten Australian beach stories (in no particular order) worth reading this summer.

Floundering by Romy Ash

Romy Ash’s debut novel Floundering, shortlisted for the 2013 Miles Franklin award, is a captivating, sometimes chilling story of two young boys who are taken, without warning, by their mother to a beachside caravan park.

Left to their own devices, the boys must make the most of their time by the beach without anything but their school bags and uniforms.

The un-named regional beach in this novel is uncomfortable, “a location of risk and danger” as author Robert Drewe once described it, and sometimes reveals the worst ways in which nature and humanity meet. It’s a refuge for people looking to escape from city life, a stark comparison to more urbanised beaches.

Puberty Blues by Kathy Lette and Gabrielle Carey

When I tell people that I research the Australian beach, often their first response is to ask if I’ve watched Puberty Blues. Perhaps Australia’s most iconic beach text, the book (first published in 1979) is the story of two friends growing up in beachside suburbs of Sydney. It was adapted for film by Bruce Beresford in 1981.

Both the book and film, with their characteristic colloquialisms and Australian slang, capture a sense of Australian coastal identity while revealing uncomfortable truths about gender, sex, and drugs for the teenagers they depict.

Australian stories about the beach are often male-centred and written by men. Puberty Blues is an important contribution to beach literature because of Debbie and Sue, its female protagonists, and their perspectives on a blokey world.

Time’s Long Ruin by Stephen Orr

In 1966, the three Beaumont children disappeared from Glenelg Beach near Adelaide. They were last seen in the company of a tall, blond man. Despite continued searching, even earlier this year, they have never been found.

Time’s Long Ruin (2010) is a fictionalised account of the disappearance of three children as told through the eyes of their young neighbour. Loosely based on the Beaumont story, Orr captures the dread of the aftermath for those left behind who knew and loved the children, the challenge of dealing with false leads and unreliable information, and the growing realisation that they will likely never be found.

The case of the Beaumont children had an enormous impact on Australian culture. My mother, who was a young girl when they disappeared, still recalls how her parents would worry about her momentarily being out of sight at the beach at this time.

Breath by Tim Winton

Breath, published in 2008, earned Tim Winton his fourth Miles Franklin award and was recently adapted into a film, directed by and starring Simon Baker.

On the surface, this novel is about surfing. But it asks deep questions about masculinity, and boys’ attitudes towards sex, while capturing the feel of Australian coastal life in the 1970s.

Winton’s writings often engage with the ocean, the coast, and the beach – usually in West Australia, where he lives. His memoirs have revealed his love for the coastal landscape. As he writes in Land’s Edge (1993): “There is nowhere else I’d rather be, nothing else I’d rather be doing. I am at the beach looking west with the continent behind me as the sun tracks down to the sea. I have my bearings”.

The Empty Beach by Peter Corris

Peter Corris died in August, after publishing 102 novels. The Empty Beach (1983) was released early in his career and is the fourth novel featuring the private investigator Cliff Hardy – a homegrown, hard-boiled detective, firmly located in Sydney. It was adapted for film in 1985.

In this book, Hardy is investigating the disappearance of John Singer, missing and presumed dead. He begins his probe in the rough, working class Bondi of the early 1980s. Corris captures Bondi Beach through the eyes of his protagonist, depicting it as a seedy extension of the city.

Hassled by junkies, threatened by mobsters; Hardy spends much of the novel embroiled in the corrupt underbelly of Sydney’s criminal kingpins, never far from the now infamous shoreline.

The True Colour of the Sea, by Robert Drewe

Having lived in many coastal spots across the country, including Perth, Sydney, and Byron Bay, Robert Drewe’s stories regularly capture that very familiar, domestic sense of a beachside life.

Drewe’s The Bodysurfers (1987), a collection of short stories, became a bestseller.

His memoirs and short stories are all infused by the beach landscape, and this latest collection is no different.

As the narrator writes in Dr Pacific, the opening story in his new collection:
“One thing’s for sure – it’s my love of the ocean that keeps me going. You know what I call the ocean? Dr Pacific. All I need to keep me fit and healthy is my daily consultation with Dr Pacific.”

Atomic City by Sally Breen

Sally Breen lives and works on the Gold Coast, and that strip of high density development on the beach works its way into much of her writing.

With its high rise skyline under a big sky, Surfers Paradise has been called a “pleasure dome” by Frank Moorhouse. But Atomic City (published in 2013), set largely in the lofty apartment buildings and businesses that abut, and look out on, the beach, captures perfectly the grift and graft of this place.

Jade arrives on the Gold Coast to make herself over and get rich. Together with shady croupier “The Dealer” this is a beach tale of cons, scams and identity theft.

Not Meeting Mr Right by Anita Heiss

Prominent Australian Indigenous author Anita Heiss straddles both fiction and non-fiction, with her work often grounded in ideas around Indigenous identity. Her series of “chick lit” novels includes Not Meeting Mr Right (first published in 2007).

In the novel, Alice lives beachside in Coogee and regularly walks the coastal path between it and Bondi. A proudly single, Indigenous woman, Alice has a change of heart about marriage and decides to get serious about settling down – which means embarking on the rocky road towards finding love. In contrast to the challenges – including racism – she encounters along the way, the beach is a comfortably ordinary presence in this novel. However, Heiss also parodied the white Australian beach experience in an earlier book Sacred Cows (1996).

After January by Nick Earls

If you grew up in Brisbane when I did, there was a high chance you were reading a Nick Earls novel or seeing one adapted into a play. After January (first published in 1996) is one of Earls’ first works for young adult readers, and is set in the long break after finishing high school.

Alex is on holidays at Caloundra in his family’s beach house, a teenage boy uncomfortable in his skin but comfortable in the ocean. Although now more than 20 years old, this story still captures the uncertainty of burgeoning adulthood and the comfort the ocean can bring.

Bluebottle by Belinda Castles

For many Australians, the beach can be wrapped up in childhood memory. These memories can blend and blur. In my mind, my summers spent at the beach with my grandparents were never-ending, from the moment school finished until the day before I was set to return. In reality, we spent some time there, often weekends, and certainly never the entire school holidays.

Belinda Castles’ Bluebottle tells the story of the Bright family, and is filled with that uncomfortable tension that arises when we realise memory is fallible. Siblings Jack and Lou recount key moments from their childhood, starting with the disappearance of a local school girl and their father’s unpredictable purchase of a beachside property in Bilgola, Sydney. However, they learn that growing older can change perspectives on the past and, like the beach, it can be hard to tell what’s under the surface while the waves distort our view.The Conversation

Liz Ellison, Lecturer in Creative Industries, CQUniversity Australia

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

What big data can tell us about how a book becomes a best-seller



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Factors ranging from the timing of a book’s release to its subject matter can determine whether it will crack the vaunted list.
Billion Photos/Shutterstock.com

Albert-László Barabási, Northeastern University

The average American reads 12 or 13 books a year, but with over 3 million books in print, the choices they face are staggering.

Despite the introduction of 100,000 new titles each year, only a tiny fraction of these attract a large enough readership to make The New York Times best-seller list.

Which raises the questions: How does a book become a best-seller, and which types of books are more likely to make the list?

I’m a data scientist. Recently, with help of Burcu Yucesoy, a postdoc in my lab, I put the reading habits of Americans under our data microscope.

We did so by analyzing the sales patterns of the 2,468 fiction and 2,025 nonfiction titles that made The New York Times best-seller list for hardcovers during the last decade.

Real lives, imaginary action

The first thing the data reminded me is just how few books in my favorite category, science, become best-sellers – a paltry 1.1 percent. Science books compete for a spot on the nonfiction list with everything from business to history, sports to religion.

Yet, on the whole, hardcovers in these categories don’t fly off the shelves, either.

Which nonfiction titles do? Memoir and biographies, with almost half of the 2,025 nonfiction best-sellers falling into this category.

Then we examined the fiction list. Much of the press focuses on literary fiction – books we see debated by critics, lauded as important and culturally relevant, and eventually taught in schools.

But in the past decade, only 800 books categorized as literary fiction made the best-seller list. Most best-sellers – 67 percent of all fiction titles – represent plot-driven genres like mystery or romance or the kind of thrillers that Danielle Steel and Clive Cussler write.

Action sells – there’s no surprise there.

But it was unexpected the degree to which only a handful of authors repeatedly appear: Eight-five percent of best-selling novelists have landed multiple books on the list. Mystery and thriller novelist James Patterson, for example, had 51 books on the best-seller list in the period we explored.

James Patterson has sold over 100 million copies of his book, grossing more than US$1 billion in sales.
AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee

By contrast, only 14 percent of nonfiction authors had more than one best-selling book. Perhaps this is because the genre often requires expertise on a specific subject matter. If an author primarily writes about football, or neuroscience, or even her own life, it’s difficult to generate 10 books on the topic.

A universal sales curve

Publishers eagerly slap “New York Times Bestseller” stickers on each book that appears on the list’s 15 slots.

A quarter of those, however, have only a cameo appearance, briefly grabbing a spot at the bottom of the list and dropping out after a single week. Only 37 percent have some staying power and spend more than four weeks on the best-seller list. Even fewer – 8 percent – attain the number one spot.

Some rare exceptions can lease out a spot for years: “The Help” by Kathryn Stockett lingered on the fiction list for an astonishing 131 weeks, while Laura Hillenbrand’s “Unbroken” stayed on the nonfiction list for a record 203 weeks.

One big misconception is that you have to write a mega-seller to make the list. The majority of titles on The New York Times best-seller list only sell between 10,000 and 100,000 copies in their first year. “The Slippery Year,” a 2009 memoir by Melanie Gideon, made the list with a yearly sale of fewer than 5,000 copies.

How is this possible?

Our data set shows that just about your only chance of making the list is right after your publication date.

That’s because book sales, we discovered, follow a universal sales curve – there’s a single mathematical formula that captures the weekly sales of all books. And that sales curve has a prominent peak right after the release, meaning you sell the most copies during the first weeks after your book’s release. Fiction sales almost always peak within the first two to six weeks; for nonfiction, the peak can come any time during the first 15 weeks.

https://datawrapper.dwcdn.net/A6uG3/1/

While you might assume that there would be overlooked books that build their audiences slowly and eventually make it onto the hallowed list, there really aren’t.

It’s all about the timing

In other words, what happens during a brief window of time can foretell a book’s success.

For this reason, the timing of the release matters a great deal, especially since the threshold to reach the list varies throughout the year.

In February or March, selling a few thousand copies can land a book on the best-seller list; in December – when sales skyrocket during the holidays – selling 10,000 copies a week might not guarantee a book a spot.

So when should authors publish?

It depends on their circumstances. If they lack a strong fan base, and their hope is to simply make it onto the best-seller list, it’s best to aim for February or March.

At the same time, appearing on The New York Times best-seller list doesn’t necessarily guarantee that a book will sell more copies. Research shows that appearing on the list tends to boost sales only for unknown authors, and the effect disappears after one to three weeks.

So for well-known authors or celebrities who already have built-in fan bases, appearing on the best-seller list might not matter as much. Instead, they’ll likely want to maximize sales – in which case, it’s best to publish in late October: The release will coincide with peak sales in December, when bookstores are packed with Christmas shoppers.

The good news is that if you’re like me – and have written several books that didn’t end up as best-sellers – you still have a chance to break through: Our analysis shows that only 14 percent of novelists made the list with their first book.The Conversation

Albert-László Barabási, Robert Gray Dodge Professor of Network Science, Northeastern University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Milkman by Anna Burns & Difficult Books


The link below is to an article that explores the need for difficult books and comments on the 2018 Man Booker winner, ‘Milkman,’ by Anna Burns.

For more visit:
https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/nov/10/anna-burns-milkman-difficult-novel

Sound Effects and Music Added to Ebooks


The link below is to an article reporting on Google Home and Disney adding sound effects and music to ebooks.

For more visit:
https://goodereader.com/blog/e-book-news/google-home-and-disney-adds-sound-effects-and-music-to-books

The Length of Books/Ebooks


The link below is to an article that takes a look at the length of books/ebooks – are books/ebooks getting longer?

For more visit:
https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/sep/21/the-guardian-view-on-lengthening-books-read-them-and-weep