Driven partly by pressure from incessant literary prize shortlists, more than one in three consumers in London and the south-east admit having bought a book "solely to look intelligent", the YouGov survey says.
It finds one in every eight young people confessing to choosing a book "simply to be seen with the latest shortlisted title". This herd instinct dwindles to affect only one in 20 over-50 year-olds…
…the results indicate that "reading" is a relative term. When asked about specific titles, only one in 25 people turn out to have read the novel chosen as the best in the Booker prize’s 25-year history, Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children – and half these had failed to finish it.
Only one in 100 had read Andrew Levy’s Small Island, picked earlier this month as the best of all Orange prize winners. Not a single reader had yet opened this month’s Booker winner, John Banville’s The Sea.
Other strongly publicised titles endorsed by literary panels fare only slightly better. One in 20 members of the public has read Zadie Smith’s White Teeth and only one in 25 Yann Martel’s Life of Pi or Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist.
Some consumers hedge their bets by keeping two titles on the go – one an impressive book to show other people, the other an escapist work to enjoy.
The biggest group, more than two in every five people, follows the traditional method of choosing their reading; relying on recommendations from close family and friends.
The sample’s own top 10 titles, a mixture of classic and popular, is: the Bible, Lord of the Rings, one or other of the Harry Potter stories, Catch-22, Animal Farm, The Hobbit, Pride and Prejudice, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Da Vinci Code, Wuthering Heights.
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