Diana Athill… on two types of readers

I couldn’t find an apt place to include this quotation in my review of Diana Athill’s Stet yesterday, but it’s so wonderful a quotation that I had to put it up somewhere:

People who buy books, not counting useful how-to-do-it books, are of two
kinds. There are those who buy because they love books and what they
can get from them, and those to whom books are one form of entertainment
among several. The first group, which is by far the smaller, will go on
reading, if not for ever, then for as long as one can foresee. The
second group has to be courted. It is the second which makes the
best-seller, impelled thereto by the buzz that a particular book is
really something special; and it also makes publishers’ headaches,
because it has become more and more resistant to courting.
How simply this clears up my confusion over ‘Why did that become a bestseller?’ – or even the concept of the bestseller at all.  The second group, as she details later in Stet, would just as happily turn to music or television or cinema for their entertainment.  Those of us in the first group (though of course we might well enjoy music, television, and cinema) cannot imagine a substitute for books.  Nothing comes close.

25 thoughts on “Diana Athill… on two types of readers

  • April 16, 2013 at 1:39 am
    Permalink

    Now isn't that the truth. The descriptions of the two types of readers is defined quite well. Then of course there are the collectors. Where do they come in? :-)

    Reply
    • April 16, 2013 at 9:14 am
      Permalink

      I think they belong to the same sort of group as toy collectors – the latter look for blemish-free toys in their original boxes. Their value is in the resale price – God forbid they should have been played with!
      With books – could it be the ones with un-cut pages? Arrgghh!

      Reply
    • May 1, 2013 at 9:34 pm
      Permalink

      Collectors who don't read don't factor in my equation! I have a horror of them…

      Reply
  • April 16, 2013 at 2:15 am
    Permalink

    I adore this quotation, and agree with it completely. I'm so often made fun of because I seldom enjoy a movie made from a favorite book. There is no comparison when it comes to my choice of entertainment. Thanks for sharing.

    Reply
    • May 1, 2013 at 9:34 pm
      Permalink

      We're amongst friends here, aren't we, Bonnie? I forget sometimes how the outside world doesn't always sympathise!

      Reply
  • April 16, 2013 at 2:51 am
    Permalink

    This is a great quote and it explains "The Da Vinci Code", "50 Shades of Grey" and numerous others.

    Reply
    • May 1, 2013 at 9:35 pm
      Permalink

      Doesn't it just! And how sometimes great books can get to the masses too, through the same processes.

      Reply
  • April 16, 2013 at 9:40 am
    Permalink

    It also explains why it is so difficult to predict what is going to be the 'next big thing'. Such readers are more likely to be swayed by non-literary considerations.

    Reply
  • April 16, 2013 at 5:32 pm
    Permalink

    It's also referred to as the 45% and it's what made 50 shades such a phenomenal best-seller. The 45% are the people who generally don't read books, but when something gets talked about 'word of mouth' that they should absolutely try, they respond. They are the people who heard about the book at the hair salon and told their girl-friends and many of them read it before it was published in the mainstream. It also explains why ordinary readers just didn't get what all the fuss was about. It's a fascinating subject. I admit I never read any of the books, but I really enjoyed listening to those who did, particularly the normally non-readers. Almost impossible to predict what will spark the next phenomena like this.

    Reply
    • May 1, 2013 at 9:36 pm
      Permalink

      Isn't it a fascinating topic? The bestseller is so different from other types of sellers.

      Reply
  • April 16, 2013 at 6:50 pm
    Permalink

    I think that's a really apt quotation. We'd all like to think of ourselves as the first group, but I think we can all sometimes see that we have a part of the second group in us as well. We try and hunt those literary nuggets of gold in smaller bookshops, but sometimes we follow the crowd too, and buy a best seller from Whsmiths. readingmeandknowingyou.blogspot.com

    Reply
    • May 1, 2013 at 9:36 pm
      Permalink

      That's interesting! I actively avoid bestsellers, but sometimes catch myself up on that, and try to avoid the snobbery…

      Reply
  • April 17, 2013 at 3:30 am
    Permalink

    I am pleased to be in the first group and intend to stay there.

    Reply
  • April 17, 2013 at 9:21 pm
    Permalink

    That is a fantastic quote and it really does explain why certain books become such blockbusters. I was thinking about this post this morning as I drove to work. I have always read books, but in the past six or so years, as my reading and interest in books has increased (thanks in great part to book blogs!), I have almost completely stopped watching television and movies.

    Reply
    • May 1, 2013 at 9:39 pm
      Permalink

      I wish I could say that I didn't watch much TV – but I seem to watch so much, still… those darn soap operas take up my time ;)

      Reply
  • April 19, 2013 at 12:21 pm
    Permalink

    Aptly put, some turn against the general thinking because they see the literary merit of a published literature, while the more mainstream gets swayed because an authority has told – akin to herds attracted to a fancy watering hole.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

%d bloggers like this: