The great unread: DBC Pierre, Harry Potter. .. oh yes, and David Blunkett
Books by Rushdie, Clinton and Beckham among those most often left unfinished
Paul Lewis and John Ezard
Monday March 12, 2007
It's the literary club no author wants to belong to, but boasts the likes of Salman Rushdie, Bill Clinton, Paulo Coelho and Fyodor Dostoyevsky. A survey out today of the books Britons own but do not finish shows a surprising lack of appetite for many of the nation's most popular titles.
The bestselling book that topped the poll, DBC Pierre's Vernon God Little, has been lauded the world over- ironically, for its explosive denouement. But 35% of respondents who bought or borrowed the Man Booker-winning satire about a Texan schoolboy in a death row reality TV show failed to get to the end.
And while few can dispute the crazed popularity of JK Rowling's books amid the under 16s, the survey of 4,000 adults found 32% were not particularly fussed about the fourth in the series. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire beat James Joyce's 1912 novel Ulysses- running to more than 1,000 notoriously laborious pages- into second place.
Other surprise "winners" in the online survey include Captain Corelli's Mandolin, the Louis De Bernières novel that has sold more than 2 million since 1994, and Paulo Coelho's The Alchemist.
Fifty-five per cent of those polled for the survey, commissioned by Teletext, said they buy books for decoration, and have no intention of actually reading them. Rachel Cugnoni, from the publisher Vintage, said the apparent unpopularity of tough literary texts like Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses, Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace and Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment- all voted in the top 10- suggests readers are purchasing "intellectual credibility for the bookshelf" rather than books they actually want to read.
"Far too often people are buying books because they think they will be good for them, rather than because they think they'll enjoy them," she said. "There are certain books that everyone buys because the whole world has read them." That is not to say, however, that the literary industry cares. "The important thing from a bookseller's point of view," said a spokesman for Waterstone's, "is that people buy the books in the first place." Half of the top 10 non-fiction books people buy but don't read are autobiographies. My Life, by Bill Clinton, and My Side, by David Beckham, made the top three.
But it was The Blunkett Tapes- the juiciest bits were serialised in the Guardian- which topped the non-fiction section. The former cabinet minister's diaries may have given a warts and all insight into back-room politicking, but the gossip proved all too boring for 35% of its readers. Margaret Thatcher's The Downing Street Years was the seventh most likely non-fiction title not to be read, proving less popular than Jade Goody's epic Jade: My Autobiography. Other books Britons cannot conquer are Easy Way to Stop Smoking, by Allen Carr, and Paul McKenna's auspiciously titled I Can Make You Thin.
None of the listed authors contacted were available for comment. However the publisher behind Eats, Shoots & Leaves, Lynn Truss's UK bestseller, blamed the readers for the text appearing fourth on the list. "These people must have the intelligence of plankton not to be able to get through 204 pages of a comic, readable book," said Andrew Franklin, from Profile.