A Simple Method for Analyzing Books

A recent Pew Research Center study found the following:

  • Americans 18 and older read on average 17 books each year. 19% say they don’t read any books at all. Only 5% say they read more than 50.
  • Fewer Americans are reading books now than in 1978.
  • 64% of respondents said they find the books they read from recommendations from family members, friends, or co-workers.
  • The average reader of e-books read 24 books (the mean number) in the past 12 months; the average non-e-book consumer read an average of 15.

The first bullet above is pretty remarkable. Using 17 books/year with, let’s say, 40 years of reading (above the age of 18), that’s 680 books read in adulthood. That’s a lot.

This got me thinking about how we decide which books to buy and how our decisions on which books to buy adapt with each book that we read. Are we in tune with our changing desires and interests and is our feedback loop from both positive and negative reading experiences, well, accurate and efficient?

Some time ago, I began collecting data on my book reading experiences to allow me to analyze exactly that. Given the Pew study, I figure I’ll share my methodology in hopes it makes sense to someone else. Star ratings such as that on Amazon are certainly helpful, but my hope is to perfectly understand what works for me as to make my decisions on reading material accurate, efficient, and part of a lifelong journey for knowledge and inspiration.

Known Data Elements (Both Categorical and Quantitative)

  • Author
  • Type (Non-Fiction vs Fiction)
  • Genre (Thrillers/Suspense, Science/Technology, Current Affairs & Politics, etc.)
  • Number of Pages (using hardcover as a standard)
  • Date Published

Personal Data Inputs (upon book completion)

  • Date Completed
  • Tags/Notes
  • Readability, Flow, & Structure (RFS) – A score ranging from [0.0, 5.0] subjectively assigned to a book based on ease-of-read and the overall structure of the book.
  • Thought-Provoking, Engagement, & Educational Value (TEV) – A score ranging from [0.0, 5.0] subjectively assigned to a book based on how mentally stimulating it was in terms of knowledge and thought.
  • Entertainment, Suspense, & Likeability (ESL) – A score ranging from [0.0, 5.0] subjectively assigned to a book based on the entertainment value and overall likeability of the story, characters, and/or information presented.

Those three metrics (RFS, TEV, ESL) allow one to create a overall score for the book. My overall score is a simple sum of the three metrics, divided by the maximum possible score (15.0), and expressed as a percentage (ranging from 0% to 100%). Although I have not yet conducted any correlation studies or categorical analyses using my data (which I have for 42 books starting in Aug 2004), below is a snapshot. As for my next book, it’ll probably be a self-help guide to drop the data obsession. 🙂

Title Author Pages RFS [0,5] TEV [0,5] ESL [0,5] SCORE [0,100%]
A Short History of Nearly Everything Bill Bryson 560 4.5 5.0 4.5 93%
The Alchemist Paulo Coelho 208 4.5 4.5 4.5 90%
Life of Pi Yann Martel 336 4.5 4.0 4.5 87%
Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game Michael Lewis 288 4.0 4.5 4.0 83%
Born to Be Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life Dacher Keltner 352 4.0 4.5 3.5 80%
The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference Malcolm Gladwell 288 4.0 4.0 4.0 80%
The Next 100 Years: A Forecast for the 21st Century George Friedman 272 4.0 4.5 3.5 80%
Super Freakonomics: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes, and Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance Steven Levitt; Stephen Dubner 288 4.0 4.0 4.0 80%
Super Crunchers: Why Thinking-By-Numbers is the New Way To Be Smart Ian Ayres 272 4.0 4.0 4.0 80%
The Art of Strategy: A Game Theorist’s Guide to Success in Business & Life Avinash Dixit; Barry Nalebuff 512 4.0 4.5 3.5 80%
The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More Chris Anderson 256 4.0 4.0 3.5 77%
Outliers: The Story of Success Malcolm Gladwell 309 4.0 4.0 3.5 77%
Body of Lies David Ignatius 352 4.5 3.0 4.0 77%
A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail Bill Bryson 284 3.5 4.0 3.5 73%
Kill Alex Cross James Patterson 464 4.5 2.5 4.0 73%
The Increment David Ignatius 400 4.0 2.5 4.5 73%
A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future Daniel Pink 272 4.0 4.0 3.0 73%
Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking Malcolm Gladwell 288 3.5 4.0 3.0 70%
Physics of the Impossible: A Scientific Exploration into the World of Phasers, Force Fields, Teleportation, and Time Travel Michio Kaku 352 3.5 4.0 3.0 70%
The Bourne Dominion Eric van Lustbader 432 3.5 2.5 4.5 70%
Fortune’s Formula: The Untold Story of the Scientific Betting System That Beat the Casinos and Wall Street William Poundstone 400 3.0 4.0 3.5 70%
The Godfather Mario Puzo 448 3.5 2.5 4.5 70%
The Sicilian Mario Puzo 410 3.5 2.5 4.5 70%
The Invention of Air: A Story of Science, Faith, Revolution, and the Birth of America Steven Johnson 272 3.0 4.0 3.0 67%
The Drunkard’s Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives Leonard Mlodinow 272 3.0 3.5 3.5 67%
Cross Fire James Patterson 432 4.0 1.5 4.5 67%
The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement David Brooks 448 3.5 4.5 2.0 67%
The Golden Ratio: The Story of PHI, the World’s Most Astonishing Number Mario Livio 294 3.0 4.0 2.5 63%
Physics for Future Presidents: The Science Behind the Headlines Richard Muller 354 3.0 3.5 3.0 63%
The Future of Everything: The Science of Prediction David Orrell 464 3.0 3.5 3.0 63%
The Department of Mad Scientists Michael Belfiore 320 3.0 3.0 3.5 63%
For the President’s Eyes Only: Secret Intelligence and the American Presidency from Washington to Bush Christopher Andrew 672 3.0 3.5 3.0 63%
Born Standing Up: A Comic’s Life Steve Martin 209 4.0 2.0 3.0 60%
Science is Culture: Conversations at the New Intersection of Science + Society Adam Bly (Seed Magazine) 368 2.5 3.5 3.0 60%
1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus Charles Mann 480 2.5 3.5 2.5 57%
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time Mark Haddon 226 3.0 3.0 2.0 53%
Group Theory in the Bedroom, and Other Mathematical Diversions Brian Hayes 288 2.0 3.5 2.0 50%
Euclid in the Rainforest: Discovering Universal Truth in Logic and Math Joseph Mazur 352 2.0 3.0 2.5 50%
This is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession Daniel Levitin 320 2.5 3.0 1.5 47%
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