Books: the Latest Fashion Accessory

Posted on October 25, 2005

Why do people actually buy books? An avid reader would answer "to read the book, of course!" But that's not the reason that one in three people buy books. They do it to look intelligent.

Books are the new snobbery, according to a survey today. Social competitiveness about which titles we read has become one of the new mass forces of the era and only middle-aged people are relatively free of it. 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 British Airports Authority and the travel website Expedia, which jointly commissioned the poll of 2,100 people as a prelude to their own travel books prize ceremony on Tuesday, say it suggests snobbery is no longer just a matter of keeping up with the Joneses.

"The latest literary pressure is keeping up with the rest of your fellow travellers and commuters. Bookshelf contents are fast becoming as studied and planned as outfits as a way to impress others. Books shortlisted for prestigious literary panel awards are becoming 'de rigueur' reading for many."

The survey also found that only one in 25 people who had bought the novel chosen as the best in the Booker prize's 25-year history, Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children, had actually read it. Of the people who started reading the book, only half actually finished reading it. The survey also showed that people tended to buy one impressive book to carry around, and another more fun title to actually read (presumably in secret).

We'd blog more about this, but we're just dying to get back to that fascinating six volume treatise on economic theory we're simply speeding through.

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