How many books did you read in 2023?

Published 9:53 am Monday, February 5, 2024

A couple of years ago, a co-worker asked if I had any books I wanted to discard.

It seems his wife liked to paint the covers and use them as home décor: a clean, neutral element that could easily be slipped into the design aesthetic of the day.

I was befuddled, and, on some level, appalled. A long-time adopter of the “full bookshelves, small stacks around comfy-chairs approach” to decorating with books, I’d already weathered the “let’s organize our shelves by color” trends that seemed to be everywhere on social media.

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My 350-plus cookbook collection is organized by type, then by author. Same for fiction and non-fiction, with a hefty row of reference materials thrown in just for fun. How anyone could find books organized solely by color baffled me.

As my coworker was quick to point out, no one was actually reading those books – sorted by color or painted in soothing neutral tones. It seems the books were simply for looks.

I recalled that encounter recently when reading an article on washingtonpost.com. If you haven’t read the Department of Data’s witty, deep dives into data that drives our lives, you’re missing out.

But this article, in particular, asked a simple question: How many books did you read in 2023?

A poll conducted by the Economist/YouGov surveyed 1,500 Americans about their reading habits in 2023. And the results are, well, good news for folks who like their book covers painted in neutral, soothing tones.

According to the poll, nearly one half of the people surveyed – a full 46 percent – finished zero books last year. And 5 percent of those surveyed read only one book.

“So, if you read more than two books in 2023, congratulations!” the article states. “You’re in the top half of U.S. adults.”

If you read five books, you’re in the top 33 percent; 10 books, the top 21 percent; 15 books, top 15 percent. And if you read 50 or more books? Well, welcome to the top 1 percent.

Of course, not all of those books read were traditional hard-cover or paperback books. “About 42 percent of us read physical books in the past year, compared with 22 percent who read digital books or 19 percent who read audiobooks,” the article states.

Moreover, about 85 percent of those adults polled own at least one book, while just 49 percent own at least one e-book. That’s encouraging proof that print isn’t dead or dying. Almost 25 percent of Americans own at least 100 physical books, with 7 percent owning more than 500 and 3 percent owning more than 1,000. I suspect those are the folks who have true libraries with those really cool ladders my daughter-in-law covets.

And shockingly, nearly 28 percent of us don’t organize our books – by color, author, or genre or subject. Thankfully, only 3 percent of those surveyed admitted to organizing by color, while 19 percent of us organize by genre or subject and another 18 percent by book size.

Thanks to a healthy mix of audiobooks, e-books and good, hold-in-your-hands hardcovers and a Goodreads Reading Challenge goal, I’m happy to know I’m solidly in that 1 percent of American readers. And thanks to those same audiobooks and e-books, my personal library hasn’t rolled into four figures and remains steadfastly un-color-coordinated.

Lest you think I’m judging those who are non-readers, I’m not. My family is solidly split between readers and non-readers, and I love them all.

But, if you find yourself in need of another goal for 2024, how about setting a reading goal? The Judge George Armstrong Public Library is a terrific resource for checking out books and audiobooks – a test-drive without the commitment of purchasing books. For those of you who like to read but are looking to expand your genres or discover new reads, the library also can connect you with Book Club groups and fellow readers. And, if you’re ready to move into the 1 percent group, come find me on Goodreads. I’d love to connect – as long as you don’t talk about painting book covers.

Stacy G. Graning is regional editor of The Democrat. Email her at stacy.graning@natchezdemocrat.com and find her on Goodreads @Stacy Graning.