According to an article in today's Guardian one in three people buys a book just to look intelligent. John Ezard reports that:
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 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."
I confess to finding myself slightly baffled by this information... Leaving aside the craze for buying the latest Harry Potter (which is a phenomenon of its own), I've never considered buying or reading a book in order to be fashionable - but then, as anyone who knows me could tell you, I don't take any notice of clothing fashions either, so maybe that's not much to go on ! Plus, I don't think I possess a herd instinct - I'm such a non-conformist that it wouldn't occur to me to follow a herd.
Where books are concerned (aside from the aforementioned young wizard), I'm more likely to avoid a book that everyone's reading than read it too: The Da Vinci Code springs to mind - long before it became de rigueur to read it, I'd read the first chapter in electronic format and it did nothing for me. When lots of people around me started raving about it, I briefly considered giving it a second chance and my sister loaned me her copy - which sat around on top of my pending pile of books, being ignored and collecting dust, for about a month before I sent it back to her, still unopened... I guess this must make me an inverse snob ?
Oh and spot the gender-change for one of the authors mentioned in this article - I bet the author concerned isn't impressed !