How Much Are You Reading?


Are the British the only people who read walking along the street?

I’m surrounded by people who do so, and indeed I’m one of them. The perils (lampposts, light bruising, other people thoughtlessly getting in the way, rude cyclists, buses, those low metal boxes randomly placed along the pavement by electrical companies) are outweighed by the pleasures.

I’ve lately stepped up my reading to try and clear the backlog, but I’m fighting a losing battle. There are books everywhere in my minimalist flat and I’m struggling to hide them. I realise that by hiding them I’m reverting to childhood, when I hid horror comics from my mum.

According to a YouGov survey, the number of books read for pleasure by adults in the UK is around 10 each year, and the median is around 4. I suspect people fib when asked how many books they read, because they feel guilty. We’re all busy, and books are not everyone’s thing. My best friend never read a single book in his life.

I however will read anything. My motto is; ‘Better a flawed brave attempt than something perfectly acceptable’. I prefer authors who reach for the stars and fall short, rather than ones who provide fan service and deliver what’s exactly promised on the jacket.

So I’m currently reading a phenomenal amount, mixing one new novel with one old novel on a day-to-day basis, and I’m starting to make generalisations. One, don’t read Amazon reviews. Joanne Harris recommended SF writer Becky Chambers to me, but readers on Amazon are calling her an entry level YA writer. I’m trusting Joanne on this.

Conversely, I was so convinced that I would love Stuart Turton’s ‘The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle’ that I bought both a Kindle edition and a hardback keeper. And I hated it. A time-shuffling, multiple body-hopping whodunnit that relives the same day over and makes it impossible to keep track of who’s doing what to whom played like an SF videogame. Amazon readers adore it, but I have to remember that they also adored the execrable gibberish of ‘House of Leaves’. Maybe it’s a millennial thing?

I’m starting to be put off every time I see Sophie Hannah recommend something on a jacket, because it’s clear her tastes don’t match mine. This is part of a trend, Joanne pointed out, that requires every book written by a woman to be placed under ‘Women’s Writing’, which she finds insulting because it places women in a narrow ethnic group instead of being half the human race.

Good news; there are reprints of the best work from overlooked authors appearing everywhere, thanks to the internet proving that there’s a demand. And London’s gigantic annual paperback fair is this week, so a cry of ‘Incoming!’ will go up over my flat.

I’m currently reading; ‘Timekeepers: How the World became Obsessed by Time’, by Simon Garfield. Thomas Hinde’s 1964 classic of paranoia, ‘The Day The Call Came’, jaw dropping true account of Vietnam deserters ‘Operation Chaos’ by Matthew Sweet, and ‘Frankenstein In Baghdad’ by Ahmed Saadawi. This doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy more mainstream hits. I liked Mick Herron’s ‘London Rules’ and even read ‘Big Little Lies’ to compare to the excellent TV series (conclusion; book perkier, TV cooler).

I’d like to know what you’re reading; let me know. All books (with the possible exception of fan fiction) are equal.


40 comments on “How Much Are You Reading?”

  1. Nick Kirby says:

    Reading Armada by Ernest Cline. Just finished The Grim Reaper by Bernard Knight. Up next – White Corridor (I think you know this one).

  2. John Chapman says:

    I read around 20 books a year, mostly fiction, most genres (with a bias towards the fantastical). A 500-page novel seems to take me about two weeks, although on holiday I can zip through one in three days. Any faster and I don’t take anything in. And I can only manage one book at a time – I’ve tried having more on the go but one always seems more interesting than the others – which end up unfinished.

    My current read is the third in the Mythago Wood cycle, “The Hollowing”. I’m head-over-heels in love with these books. I’m eking them out, allowing myself one a year, knowing there will never be any more published.

  3. Mark Baker says:

    Since you asked, I usually have a couple of things on the go, poetry and fiction. At the moment, Robin Robertson’s verse novel The Long Take and Zoe Gibson’s Folk, and also rereading Three Poems by Hannah Sullivan. I guess I read 150+ novels a year (mostly crime), and am constantly dipping in an out of poetry collections.

  4. RH says:

    I have an upsetting backlog of recent Bryant and May to get through! Pleasures deferred…

    Just finished The descent by Thomas Dekker. Blisteringly honest bio on professional sport corrupts…

    Just finishing All that remains – a life in death by Sue Black. Oddly comforting…

    Up next – The secret barrister: stories of the law and how it’s broken. Well-praised…

  5. Roger says:

    I always have several on the go at once. I used to be one of those people you saw in libraries and bookshops browsing bits of books but not buying them. Nowadays, Google, Amazon extracts, publishers’ sites and Archive do as very good substitutes.
    Oh, you mean actually reading? All – or most – of the way through.
    The Secret History of Costaguana by Juan Gabriel Vásquez. The Truth about Conrad’s Nostromo, you might say.
    Ds/Compositions by W,D. Snodgrass – a sort of guide to going wrong in poetry, just as good for readers as poets.
    Kai Lung Raises his Voice by Ernest Bramah, Previously unpublished chinoiserie left-overs. Years ago I liked Kai Lung, but either Bramah was wise to discard these pieces or my taste has changed.

    As an insomniac, there are my usual bedside books – some I hardly need to read I know them so well – Housman, Hardy, Saki, anthologies of one sort or other – which I flick through and find bits from.

  6. Polly Dymock says:

    I must read a 100 or so a year. It depends on where I am, whether I am travelling, bored by tv or something else. Currently reading Tin Roof Blow Down by James Lee Burke, Zeppelin Nights by Jerry White, just starting Blame by Jeff Abbott and a historical murder on my phone. I also have the Potter’s House by Rosie Thomas on my bedside table. My TBR pile is in the 100s and is spread (neatly) over several rooms. There are probably 1000s in my Kindle.

  7. Susanna Carroll says:

    I currently have Hilary Mantel’s ‘Back to Black’, Admin’s ‘Nyctophobia and The Sand Men’, and James Gleick’s Time Travel on the go at the moment, and a ridiculously large pile of books I’m getting round to.

    I don’t read in the street any more since giving myself a black eye on a parking meter many years ago….

  8. Helen Turnage says:

    Currently reading The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena and listening to Saturday Night & Sunday Morning by Alan Sillitoe. I read 20 to 30 books a year.

  9. Nick Kirby says:

    Also ploughing through Doctor Who and the Cave Monsters by Malcolm Hulke as a bedtime book for my little boy.

  10. SteveB says:

    A lot of comfort reading for me at the moment.
    Including right now:
    Re reading Stark / Westlake’s Parker series
    Sirens by Joseph Knox
    French Revolution by Stephen Clarke (airport edition)
    Das Europa der Könige, a long long book which I’m reading a chapter or two at a time over the last 6 months or so!

  11. Patrick Kilgallon says:

    My recently departed and much missed Mother read an average of 3 books a week from the age of 16 well into her late 80’s. We calculated that she’d read over 13,000 books. She read the Iliad in less than 2 weeks at the age of 11. Her most recent reading pleasures came from your good self. Sadly she missed starting Hall of Mirrors by a week. She was also reading Edmund Crispin and re-reading Josephine Tey. Having left around 500 books in her house my next read will be from her collection, namely Margery Allingham’s “The Tiger in the Smoke” and Edoardo Albert’s “Oswald”.

  12. Barry Wilson says:

    I think reading is boring – much prefer the Cinema.

  13. Carol Randall says:

    I probably read about 60 or 70 a year. So far this year I’ve read 37, including a couple of re-reads. Currently, I’m reading Jo Nesbo’s Macbeth (I’ve read all the Hogarth Shakespeare rewrites so far), your own Hall of Mirrors and re-reading Jon Courtenay Grimwood’s Pashazade. I have a pile of 39 books and e-books that I own or have pre-ordered, and a Kindle wish list of 177 which seems to grow every time I look at Twitter. On an insomniac night I can get through a whole novel, but generally it’s a few days. Ulysses took me twenty years from first opening it.

  14. Brooke says:

    Do I see “Islander” on your shelf? Recommend?

  15. Ken Mann says:

    I would imagine that I read between 50 and 100 books a year, depending on busyness, commute time, and state of health. Currently reading “Further Outlook” by W Grey Walter (Science Fiction Book Club 1957)

  16. Kit says:

    Goodreads tells me I read about 200 books year (possibly I need to get out more?). Just finished David Reich’s Who We Are and How We Got Here: Ancient DNA and the New Science of the Human Past, which was fascinating. Currently re-reading Martha Wells’ The Fall of Ile-Rien trilogy, as she is up for two Hugo awards this year. And looking forward to Elly Griffiths’ the Dark Angel, which comes out in the US in a couple weeks.

  17. Barbara Allan says:

    I’m currently reading Elment by Fiona Mozley – wonderful book, grounded in the natural world. I tend to read more crime fiction thank anything else and love events like the Harrogate Crime Writers Festival.

    I currently read 200-300 books a year – brand new printed, Kindle, library books and books from charity shops and second hand book shops. At home, I have a pile by bed, chair etc etc. I couldn’t imagine a world without books.

  18. Andrea says:

    Reading Circe by Madeline Miller and The Girls I. The Pucture by Melanie Benjamin and just finished Killers of the Fliwer Moon. Probably read 50 book a year these days.

  19. SteveB says:

    @ Patrick, your mum sounds like she was a great woman.

  20. John DLC says:

    I manage about one a week, currently reading a history of Portugal’s wars in Africa ( which I started in Lisbon).
    ‘Seven Deaths…’ and ‘Frankenstein in Baghdad’ are in the ‘next up’ category.

  21. Graham says:

    Since I started tracking on Goodreads about 3 years ago, I have averaged a little more than a book a week, but most of them not long. I’d guess almost all were under 90k words, and most under 75k.

    I tend to read deeply instead of broadly, finding a favorite author and digging through their backlist. For example I’ve read all the Matt Helm books by Donald Hamilton and all the Quiller books by “Adam Hall”. I’m trying to broaden my horizons; right now I’m reading a collection of fantasy stories about Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser by Fritz Lieber.

    Oh yeah, and I most read pre-1980s stuff. Bryant and May is one of the few current series I keep up with.

  22. Martin Tolley says:

    I suppose I read about 70 or 80 books a year, and get increasingly depressed by the never-shrinking heap of those I want to read…just not enough years left…so many good current authors and those classics I want to catch up on. I’ve just found Helen Dunmore, wonderful lyrical and evocative prose, and just finished The Siege.

  23. JJ says:

    Until my business started to get going, I read about 200 novels a year plus about another 30-50 non-fiction books a year.
    I also read children’s books to my kids every night and read lots of children’s novels to try to find things they would love (especially my dyslexic ones). Most come from my local library, who order in titles I want which they do not have.
    Now, I work much, much longer hours. I read about 100 novels, and about 30 non-fiction books a year. But I also spend hours in the car, travelling for work, and listen to about 50 or so audiobooks a year (novels). Being able to ‘read’ while driving/cooking etc. is brilliant.
    I buy more print books than before now I earn a bit more – generally I buy non- fiction which I will use regularly (e.g. cookbooks) and fiction I will want to re-read or to try ensure the series continues (e.g. Bryant and May).
    I have just finished Hall of Mirrors (utterly terrific, I really couldn’t put it down) and Not That Kind of Love (Clare Wise and Greg Wise – a memoir, sad and funny). I am currently reading London Rain by Nicola Upton (great historical crime novel) and re-listening to The Hanging Tree by Ben Aaronovitch (love this series, wonderfully narrated by Kobna Holdbrook-Smith).
    Reading is really important for my mental health. The world wood be a much poorer place without books.

  24. Peter Tromans says:

    I don’t know how many books I read in a year. Is it important? I read almost every day. When I have more than one book on the go, they will be very different, a crime fiction, an unpopular science and something on art, for example.

    Certainly, the ‘to be read’ pile grows faster than the ‘have read.’ And I’m a slow reader, even of easy stuff, partly through nature and partly because I like to savour the thoughts and words.

  25. Natalie says:

    I’m currently finishing Jacqueline Winspear A Dangerois Place. I’ve now read 3 of this series as very readable. I try the book challenge each year to try and read 52 books in a year. Usually fall slightly short but this year I’m trying harder. I buy about 40 books a year and get given about 20.

  26. Denise Treadwell says:

    I read about five a week. This week it was Plastic, Cat out of Hell by Lynne Truss – terrified me, horrifying will never look at my cats in quite the same way again! Needed something lighter so , A Magical Match by Juliet Blackwell and Death of an Honest Man by M C Beaton , now it’s The Devil’s Edge by Stephen Booth. By the end of the weekend I will have to pop down to our local Book’s Inc. to see what they have!! May have to wait for your latest . When
    will it be released here in the US, did you say it is December? I think I may have found a horrific novel published within the last five years . Cat Out of Hell fits, published 2015, if you haven’t read it already?

  27. Helen Martin says:

    Goodreads assures me it’s about 80 books a year and will likely stay there if this knee continues to pain me when I walk. Currently from the library I am reading:
    Black Ship – Carola Dunn
    Hall of Mirrors – my own copy – and most hysterically funny
    The Arsenic Labyrinth – Martin Edwards (didn’t realise arsenic is mined)
    The God Gene – F Paul Wilson
    Escape from Baghdad – Saad Z. Hossain (very weird and violent)
    The Last Tudor – Philippa Gregory (thought I had that period memorised and fine if you accept Elizabeth as a vicious paranoid tool of Cecil’s.) Next up:
    The Archaeologists – Hal Niedzviecki
    Public Secrets – Nora Roberts

    oh, Chris, you have my e-mail and you were the one that asked for the puzzle envelopes. I really don’t have your proper address, so could you give it to me for the sole purpose of sending you what you asked for please?

  28. Ian Luck says:

    I must read several hundred books a year – I’ve never really counted, but I’ve always got five books on the go at any one time, which is something I’ve done since I was twelve or thirteen, having been struck by the realisation that there will possibly not be enough time in my life to read all the books that I want. I do read both fact and fiction. At present, I am reading:
    1) Churchill’s Ministry Of Ungentlemanly Warfare, by Giles Milton;
    2) The Day Aberystwyth Stood Still, by Malcolm Pryce;
    3) Black Horizon, by M.G. Harris;
    4) A Walk Along The Tracks: Britain’s Disused Railway Lines, by Hunter Davies;
    5) Uncle Montague’s Tales Of Terror, by Chris Priestley.
    I am easily sidetracked to read other books that I find about the place. I will always return, though, to the classics like ‘Frankenstein’, and ‘Gargantua and Pantagruel’.

  29. Mike says:

    probably about 120-150 a year.
    Currently reading
    “Augustus” by Pat Southern
    “Woman in the Woods” John Connolly
    “The Fire Court” Andrew Taylor
    “D Day” Stephen E Ambrose
    “The Wages of Sin” Kaite Welsh, good, but hard going, it’s not in my comfort zone
    and any thing else laying around the house.
    Just finished “Hall of Mirrors” Excellent as always
    My wife tells me to get a life

  30. David Stubbs says:

    My house currently has over 5,000 books in almost every room. They are catalogued and I will never catch up because I keep buying more! I keep a list of what I read and the split of the 70 or so books I read each year is 60:40 in favour of non-fiction. I read multiple books at once and have around 4 on the go at any time. Currently these are Hitchcock (Peter Ackroyd), Death in Holy Orders (PD James), Freed to Serve (Michael Green) and Origin (Dan Brown) oh and usually the back of the cereal packet. I’m happy to report I’m fully up to date with Bryant and May and have read your biographical books.

  31. Red Wolf says:

    Working through Bernard Cornwall’s Sharpe books, currently on Sharpe’s Escape, as well as Literary {Grates} Greats by Frank Marrazza.

    Just finished The Desecrator by Steven Brust, A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs, Nine Dragons by Michael Connelly and, of course, Hall of Mirrors.

  32. Tara says:

    Just finished The Essex Serpent, by Sarah Perry. Enjoyed it very much. Lovely language, the kind it’s nice to linger over. Also reading the second Miss Peregrine book, Hollow City, aloud with my 13 year-old daughter. The movie was a disaster from the moment it veered way from the book’s narrative. How much more interesting if they’d stuck to original story. And I’m reading another YA book (Murder, Magic, and What We Wore) that my daughter flung into the corner after declaring it “So boring!” I’m rather enjoying it. Next, another installment in Craig Johnson’s Longmire series. Looking forward to that because it’s always like visiting with old friends.

  33. Debra Matheney says:

    Had to weigh in. Read 10-12 books a month. Currently reading James Comey’s memoir, the latest Kate Ellis, The Female Persuasion for a book club (not crazy about it), Deceived by Kindness, Angelica Garnett’s memoir of Bloomsbury, and a biography of David Garrick. I am an eclectic reader with several books on the go at all times. I enjoy reading British mystery series like Bryant and May where the protagonists lives change and evolve. I am a Jane Austen fan and usually have something related to the Regency or, better yet, the 18th century to read. I thought when I retired there would be more time for reading, but not as much as In would like. The “to be read” pile keeps growing!

  34. Ian Luck says:

    I will read anything, although the ‘Harry Potter and the Endless Hyperbole’ series left me cold. After my mum died, I found, whilst doing the most soul-crushing job one can do in one’s lifetime, packing up a deceased loved one’s belongings – you have to have to keep telling yourself that the items will no longer be needed by their owner, and you grit your teeth, and keep telling yourself that… And you come across an item that you gave as a present, and you have to just get out, walk round the block before you can continue, or you find something so horrifyingly personal – in mum’s case, a pile of hers and dad’s love letters from the 1950’s, which I did not read, but put in a strongbox. (Sorry, I wandered a bit there), I found, and read, the first half-dozen ‘Number One Ladies’ Detective Agency’ books, and found them utterly charming. Mum also had all of Dirk Bogarde’s books – again, a brilliant read. There were several books that mum hadn’t read, which I lent her, and she adored, like Laurie Lee’s ‘Cider With Rosie’, and ‘As I Walked Out One September Morning’. She liked the stories of M.R. James, but told me that they gave her bad dreams. My dad would read anything, but liked good solid adventure stories most of all, and had the habit of trying to read everything by an author, so there were teetering piles of Alistair Maclean, Desmond Baguley, Clive Cussler, and his absolute favourite, Jack Higgins, behind his chair. He was what I’d term a ‘Chain Reader’ inasmuch as when he was about thirty pages from the end, he’d have his next book ready on the arm of his chair. If he bought new books, he’d show me, and ask if I’d read any of them. Should the answer be “Yes”, he’d then look at me and say: “I don’t want to know what happens.” I know for a fact, that both my late parents would have loved your Bryant and May novels.

  35. Helen Martin says:

    Ian Luck – I almost wept reading your last post as I’ve had that to do as well. In my case I have all the letters Mother received from about 1930. That includes a letter from an RCMP friend of hers in the late 1930s in which the friend bemoans the Canadian situation (he was stationed in Sask.) and wonders about the possibility of working for a railroad company in Brazil. He’s afraid he’d have to “put up with those bloody pommies” so maybe not such a good idea. I’d never heard the English referred to as pommies here in Canada.
    A question, Ian. Somewhere here I have a copy of Hunter Davies “A Walk Along the Wall” published by the Readers Union. I really enjoyed that so how is “A Walk Along the Tracks”? I wonder if it would do for my husband – who would have enjoyed trading reading notes with your father.

  36. Ian Luck says:

    Helen – I’m so sorry that my post made you sad. It’s a horrid job, one that my younger brother, who is a very strong person found himself unable to do. I got my best friend and his partner to help in the end. If I hadn’t had to do it, I’d never have found the book stash in the wardrobe. I did, and very much enjoyed some of the contents.
    The Hunter Davies book is excellent, although I’m not sure that it’s still in print, the paperback version being printed in 1993. However, if it helps, here is the ISBN: 0-460-86099-2
    I got my copy from Amazon. Hunter Davies writes in a friendly, chatty sort of style, and fills his pages with interesting observations and detail. He walks the routes of the disused or ‘lost’ railway lines. A highpoint is his meeting with Dr Beeching, the man who wielded the ‘Beeching Axe’, and made those routes disappear from the map, claiming that it was fair, and the branch lines weren’t making money. That may be so, but he did not include people in his calculations, and at the stroke of a pen, many, many people were cut off from the rest of the UK, as they lived in remote areas with no other transport infrastructure. He was paid well, by the then Minister Of Transport, Ernest Marples, whose main business was based on road construction. Who would have thought? Until he died, Beeching was unrepentant. My favourite thing concerning Dr Beeching was an interview with a railwayman, unhappy with the cuts. He was asked what he wanted from Dr Beeching, and his reply was terse and grimly funny. It went like this:
    INTERVIEWER: “So, what would you like from Doctor Beeching?”
    RAILWAYMAN: (grimly) “His testicles in an eggcup.”

    There are maps in the book that show the terrible extent of Beeching’s butchery. I’d recommend this book to anyone who has an interest in what was the world’s first, and for a while, best, railway network.

  37. Patrick Kilgallon says:

    SteveB my mother was pretty amazing. Born within the smell of the Tyne (that constitutes a true Geordie) she hated school, loved reading and became a teacher. The fact that she “discovered” Bryant and May in her late 80’s and was so enthused about the series says as much about Christopher as it does about her.

  38. John Griffin says:

    Matthew Walker “Why We Sleep”;
    Adrian Owen “Into The Grey Zone”;
    Admin “Mirrors” – second read;
    for the odd moment or as a bog book King & Clifford “England In Particular”.

  39. Kurt Duerksen says:

    I’ve already purchased 16 books this year. Science Fiction, Biographies, Space Exploration. I also take homes all sorts of titles from the library. Mysteries, nature books, children’s and young adult titles. 3 of my 4 children all inherited the reading gene, as well. I got it from my Mother. Former bookseller and currently an Associate Librarian in the States.

  40. Helen Martin says:

    Ian Luck, thank you for the Davies info. I read the Dr. Beeching stuff to my husband who certainly appreciated it. Searching out a copy.

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