Reading Is Not So Fundamental

Did you ever watch an unlikely book climb the bestseller list, read it and then wonder if all those other people who bought it actually read it?

It turns out The New York Times wondered too, did some checking with publishers and book sellers and discovered that, yes, they believe scores of books that sell well probably never get read.

They figure the new translation of Beowulf is a prime candidate to fall into that category.

But what caught my eye was that people in the book business said one of the all-time champion best sellers that never got read was Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time. Remember the sensation it caused back in the '80s?

It purported to be about Einstein's Theory of Relativity and it was a remarkable achievement in that Hawking wrote it while in the advanced stages of Lou Gehrig's Disease. Perhaps most remarkable, it sold nine million copies. Deservedly, Hawking even made the covers of the news magazines.

On the strength of rave reviews, I bought it and proceeded to struggle with it for months. I'd read it, give it up, then see another rave review and start it again. Finally, I got to the last page.

But here's my question. Does that count as having "read it" if I still have no idea what it was about?

I don't think so. Which is why I found The New York Times article so reassuring. All these years I thought it was just me.

Thank you, New York Times.


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