Reading the Future

What are people reading?

To see where we are going, we need to know where we are. One way to look at our culture is to look at what people are reading. For years, the New York Times’ bestseller list was how we found out what was on peoples’ bookshelves. Retailers would report what was sold, and the Times would aggregate the data.

But that data can be manipulated. Authors can buy up their own books to inflate their numbers. Consultants can break up bulk sales to make them look more like retail purchases. But books are changing. More and more books are being read on screens. And another way to measure a work’s popularity is by how many highlights it gets.

Many people underline their books. I’m a highlighting addict. Ben Franklin said to never read a book without a pen in your hand. Sometimes I use three or four different colored highlighters. Amazon allows us not only to highlight passages, but to see what other folks have marked as well. (You can turn this feature off if you wish.) And—at least so far—it’s a lot harder to manipulate those numbers.

So we can learn a lot from the most highlighted passages and the most highlighted books. What do we see? First, The Hunger Games is all the rage. Eight of the top ten passages are from that trilogy; all three volumes are in the top 15 books. Second, the Bible is really popular on the Kindle: five of the top 20 books are different English translations. And third, people read for lots of reasons, but advice and insight seem to top the list. Self-help books are plentiful, and the most highlighted passages from all genres provide more instruction than information.

People are looking for young romance, ancient wisdom, and inspiration. Maybe there’s hope for the future.

Douglas R. Tengdin, CFA

Chief Investment Officer

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