Less than half of Americans (47 percent) report reading a novel in the previous year, a three percentage point drop from 2008 to 2012 according to a report by the National Endowment for the Arts. (This article in Market Watch offers a thorough explanation.)
Of those who still read fiction, most are women. A 2014 Huffington Post article went so far as to state that “[i]f, as a demographic, they suddenly stopped reading, the novel would nearly disappear.”
This is dreary news for the rapidly growing number of indie authors and publishers seeking an audience.
But just when one is about to lose faith, a figure emerges from the literary shadows who gives hope to authors everywhere. His name is Jason Denness, a 37-seven-year-old resident of Basingstoke, Hampshire, United Kingdom. We crossed paths with Jason on Goodreads while promoting Psycho-Tropics. If you’re a Goodreads member, you know that Goodreads sends news updates whenever one of your friends takes a literary action. When you’re friends with Jason, this means you get news every day because Jason is a reading superstar.
“Jason added 5 books today.”
“Jason added 12 books today.”
“Jason added 492 books today.”
Okay, exaggerating a bit, but this is a guy who consumes novels like chain smokers suck down cigarettes. He doesn’t just “add” books. He reads and reviews them, at a pace that seems almost supernatural and is bound to make any of us who consider ourselves to be avid readers feel like complete slackers by comparison.
Intrigued as to how he does it, we asked Jason if he’d be willing to sit down with us (virtual style) and answer some questions:
Q. Jason, first off, how many books would you estimate you’ve read in 2015?
A. I am a few shy of 150 books for this year, pretty confident that I will reach 150 before the year ends.
Q. That’s more than twelve books a month. Any way to peg a rough lifetime estimate?
A. I’ve only become a big reader over the last few years, but I guess in my lifetime I’ve read one thousand books.
Q. Help solve the mystery: How in the world to you do it? Tracking your Goodreads news updates, it appears you’re usually reading several books at the same time. Is that accurate?
A. I usually have three books on the go at once, two at home and one at work. The two at home I jump between them, I can’t remember when I started doing that, but it’s how I read. I don’t get lost or confused. Sometimes I seem to pit the two at-home books against each other, sometimes one is so good I will focus on that one.
Q. That one-half of the American public who haven’t picked up a novel in the past year often give as a reason that they’re “too busy.” Where do you find the time to read so many books? Are you a speed reader? Can you read in your sleep?
A. I’m not a speed reader. I’m quite quick though. I’m also not one of those people who skim read. I find that really odd. Why buy a book if you’re not going to read it properly? I take in every word, spotting spelling errors along the way. I read a lot at work too, working on computers means I spend the odd ten minutes waiting for the computer to finish what it’s doing, so I use the Kindle app on my phone to read a bit. It all adds up. At home I spend a lot of time reading whilst the family are watching their programs on TV. I find that if you give a book a go and you like it, you’ll soon make time for reading it.
Q. You seemed a little surprised when we contacted you about an interview regarding your voracious reading habits. Were you not aware that your peers in the reading community find it incredible that you read so many books? Surely we aren’t the first ones who noticed.
A. I’ve read a lot of interviews with authors, but had not seen a reader interviewed before. I have had a few comments on the number of books I read. I guess the biggest surprise is that I see people on Goodreads who have read far more than me, so I considered myself a moderate reader.
Q. We’ve spent a year now on Goodreads marketing Psycho-Tropics and it’s become obvious that the vast majority of readers out there are women. In a typical Goodreads Giveaway, for example, 90 percent of the people who sign up for a chance to receive a book are women. What do you think explains the gender gap?
A. I’d never really noticed that before, but thinking about it, the majority of my Goodreads friends who read lots are female. I can only guess that the popular books out there are pushed towards women, all sexy vampires and werewolves and bondage. Maybe men don’t like those things as much. I know quite a few males who read a lot in real life and they don’t see the point in joining Goodreads, I’ve got a couple of them to join, but they soon got bored with it. Maybe reading and socializing are more female things.
Q. What’s your favorite genre of fiction? What about nonfiction?
A. It’s probably easier to say what I don’t like: Romance and Biographies of so-called “Celebrities.” I love finding a book that has an author who’s trying to do something original or pushing the limits on what is in good taste. I recently read a book where one chapter was in the style of a Punch and Judy show (old fashioned puppet show over here in the UK), I’ve also read a nasty book about cows. If I were forced to pick a favorite genre, I would have to go with Transgressive, mainly ‘cause it is a huge genre and I can fit loads of books into it. It’s also the genre in which I have made the most contact with Indie authors. I enjoy chatting with them and reading their books.
Q. What’s your estimate as to the break down percentage-wise of books you read as between fiction and nonfiction? Estimates are that nonfiction books comprise about 70 percent of the book market compared to 30 percent for fiction, and, going back to the gender gap, data shows men favor nonfiction, while women favor fiction. You seem to turn those numbers on their head. Any speculation as to the origins of your preference for novels?
A. I think I read one non-fiction a month. Fiction books are easier for me to get into, I start reading and drift away into the story. Non-fiction demands all your attention. I do enjoy reading non-fiction, as there is so much to think about after you have finished. I enjoy history, nature, and travel books. I recently read a book on the history of cycling and now I’m saving up for a bicycle. I have a few nonfiction books lined up for next year including a book on Vikings and one on Squids. I read a lot of technical books too. I came across a book from the 1950s on power supplies. I’m finding that one interesting, but it has no ISBN number so can’t add it to my Goodreads list.
Q. Let’s back up a bit. How and when did you develop your love of reading?
A. When I was at school I was really put off reading. All we did in English lessons was stuff like Macbeth. Poetry was made into a chore and I don’t think anybody liked it. The only book I can remember getting out of the school library was the dictionary of slang. I’d read a few books I’d been given as presents, but not much. I got a big wake-up call was when I was a scout and doing some fundraising. I did a book sale and received loads of donated books. That was when I realized just how many books were out there and how amazing they all sounded, so I bought all the Stephen King, Dean Koontz and James Herbert books and that’s when my love of reading started.
Goodreads has helped too. All those lists of books help me to find new things to read, I have three Top 100 lists that I’m working my way through. In my latest act of rebellion against my English teachers I have got into poetry this year. After reading The Stone Hotel by Raegan Butcher, I finally get the appeal and have been trying to find as many poets as possible to read.
Q. Do you remember your favorite book as a child?
A. Easy one. The Worst Witch. Loved it and still own a copy, recently read it to my daughter and she loves it too. Can’t believe how much J.K. Rowling ripped it off.
Q. You’re from the UK, as are several of our other Goodreads friends. What did you think about the fiction reader demographics and the general decline in readership mentioned here in this post? Do you think the same applies to any specific areas of the UK, or the UK in general?
A. I work at a school and I can see that the kids read a lot, many of them always carrying a book. My daughter has to keep a book in her bag at all times, as they have to read for a bit every day. Books like Harry Potter and the Hunger Games are getting children, and some adults, into reading big time (having a movie based on the book seems to help). I hope this means that reading will start to pick up again. I did read today though that lots of libraries are being shut down and mobile libraries are being stopped. It feels like our Government is trying its best to make us illiterate. I am hoping ours stays, as my kids enjoy trips to the library.
Q. Are there any time-management tips you could give to those who would like to read more for pleasure, but feel as though they’re restricted by the time constraints of daily life (i.e., working and parenting) and other priorities?
A. Audiobooks and the Kindle app. I know a lot of dog walkers who take an audiobook with them whilst walking the dog. I don’t use audiobooks myself as I find I don’t listen hard enough and miss what has been read. Use the Kindle app whenever you have spare time, have a little read, and the time will fly by. Also read to your kids. I read to my youngest and try to read to her a book I want to read, but sometimes she wins and I’ll have to read about mermaids … again.
Q. There are so many indie-authors out there desperate to find readers and reviewers. We don’t want you to have to change your name and go into hiding, but are you open to Goodreads authors contacting you and offering to send you a copy of their book? If so, what would be the best way for them to do that? Any preferences or restrictions on what not to send?
A. More than happy. They just need to check out my profile and see if they think their book is something I would like, then just send me a message offering the book. I don’t mind being contacted. The best books I’ve read this year were discovered that way. For a while, on my Goodreads profile I had a message saying I was open to reviewing books, but nobody responded so I took the message down. My friend, Alison, then put a message up on her profile saying the same, and mentioning me too. She got a response from an author and we both got copies of his book.
That would be a great change that the Goodreads admins could make. Provide a box you can tick if you don’t mind being contacted by authors. That could do a lot to promote new authors and help get people into reading more.
Q. Jason, thanks for letting us interview you and, of course, for reading and reviewing Psycho-Tropics. We’ll let you get back to reading now.
A. My pleasure.