How can we find today’s greatest non-reads?
Amazon’s “Popular Highlights” feature provides one quick and dirty measure. Every book’s Kindle page lists the five passages most highlighted by readers. If every reader is getting to the end, those highlights could be scattered throughout the length of the book. If nobody has made it past the introduction, the popular highlights will be clustered at the beginning.
Thus, the Hawking Index (HI): Take the page numbers of a book’s five top highlights, average them, and divide by the number of pages in the whole book. The higher the number, the more of the book we’re guessing most people are likely to have read.
(Disclaimer: This is not remotely scientific and is for entertainment purposes only!) Here’s how some current best sellers and classics weigh in, from highest HI to lowest.
Significant Objects, a literary and anthropological experiment whose first two phases ran from July 2009 through October 2010, demonstrated that the effect of narrative on any given object’s subjective value can be measured objectively.
The project auctioned off thrift-store objects via eBay; for item descriptions, short stories purpose-written by over 200 contributing writers, including Meg Cabot, William Gibson, Ben Greenman, Sheila Heti, Neil LaBute, Jonathan Lethem, Tom McCarthy, Lydia Millet, Jenny Offill, Bruce Sterling, Scarlett Thomas, and Colson Whitehead, were substituted.
The objects, purchased for $1.25 apiece on average, sold for nearly $8,000.00 in total. (Proceeds were distributed to the contributors, and to nonprofit creative writing organizations.)
Most recently, a book collection of some of our finest stories has been published by Fantagraphics.