Sunday, 19 October 2008

What makes a heavy reader?

Too much to eat, of course.

No, sorry, bad joke, couldn't resist. I read somewhere this week that the British book industry defines a heavy reader as someone who buys eight books a year. Naturally, when I went back to find the reference, I couldn't. This academic article does, however, cite a European study which used 8 books a year as the definition of a 'keen reader'. It also cites a number of other studies which tend to use 20 to 30 books a year as the measure of a 'heavy reader'. This seems more like it to me.

Eight books a year is one book every month and a half. That's not a whole lot of books. Especially if they're thin books. Although, having said that, I am very aware of some people among my own acquaintance who would be struggling with that. I think Gareth has been attempting to read The Stand by Stephen King since about Easter. I'm pleased to say that Emily, having managed to read a book a month in 2007 has already exceeded that target as of last week, and has in fact lost count. Twenty to thirty books is approximately a book every two weeks, which seems like it would be more of a challenge.

I think I can safely claim to read that number though. In the last week, I have read: Wicked by Gregory Maguire; The Looking Glass Wars by Frank Beddor and The British Museum is Falling Down by David Lodge. And I have to say I've been feeling a little light on the reading lately. So, assuming that I read at least two books a week, that's a minimum of 100 books a year, and I think that's exceedingly conservative. So what kind of gradation can we decide on for the heaviness of readers?

I like heaviness because it gives us more scope for an inventive scale of measurement. I present to you, Miss Elliott's fascinating scale for the heaviness of readers.

30 books per year = 'overweight'
50 books per year = 'obese'
75 books per year = 'morbidly obese'
100 books per year = 'sumo'
150 books per year = 'Great White Shark'
200 books per year = 'Volvo estate'
300 books per year = 'elephant'
400 books per year = 'double decker'
500 books per year = 'blue whale'

Frankly, if you're over that, you're too keen a reader even for me! So what are you? As I said, I'm somewhere between 'sumo' and 'elephant', which is quite an achievement. In my prime (gapy year working in Oxfam books) I almost certainly did reach the dizzy heights of 'blue whale'; now such heftiness is beyond me.

And a little factoid to finish: 500 books is about a quarter of a tonne. Which is easily light enough for the 150 tonne blue whale to slip into its pocket.