Jeanne Kolker-05102013161701

Wisconsin State Journal's Jeanne Kolker, Friday, May 10, 2013. John Hart - State Journal

JOHN HART — State Journal

What aren’t you reading this summer? “Capital in the Twenty-First Century” by Thomas Piketty, according to Jordan Ellenberg’s calculations.

Ellenberg, a professor of math at UW-Madison and the author of this year’s “How Not to Be Wrong,” came up with a fun way to find out which books people are reading this summer. Not just buying, but actually reading.

At the Wall Street Journal website, Ellenberg lays out his informal process: He looks at Amazon’s “Popular Highlights” feature, which allows users to see the five most highlighted passages by Kindle readers.

“If every reader is getting to the end, those highlights could be scattered throughout the length of the book,” Ellenberg writes. But if the reader gets stuck halfway through the first chapter, the highlights will logically dry up as the book progresses.

He calls his process the Hawking Index, after Stephen Hawking’s “A Brief History of Time,” a book that has been called “the most unread book of all time.” To calculate the Hawking Index, Ellenberg takes the page numbers of a book’s five most highlighted passages, averages them, and divides by the number of pages in the book.

Ellenberg attaches a disclaimer: This is just for fun, folks. He’s not dropping science on us.

So, if Piketty’s book is the least-often-finished book of the summer, what books are we reading to the end?

One popular read is “Catching Fire” by Suzanne Collins, which ranks at 43.4% on the Hawking Index. In fact, the sentence “Because sometimes things happen to people and they’re not equipped to deal with them” is the most highlighted sentence in the seven-year history of Kindle, according to Ellenberg, as it’s marked by 28,703 readers.

But Number One on his list is my favorite book of last year, Pulitzer Prize winner “The Goldfinch” by Donna Tartt, with a 98.5% completion rate. Not bad for a hefty 770-plus page book.

Props to Ellenberg for his fun literary experiment — if nothing else, it can allay any guilt readers may have for prematurely giving up on Hawking’s landmark book. Rest assured, you’re not alone.

Festival anticipation

If you’re looking to get a jump on some reading in advance of October’s Wisconsin Book Festival, you can check out Garth Stein’s acclaimed 2008 “The Art of Racing in the Rain.” Stein is scheduled to visit the Central Library in early October (technically before the Book Festival kicks off) to promote his new novel, “A Sudden Light.” Stein’s latest is due out at the end of September.

Or, you can check out the workshop lineup for the Southwest Wisconsin Book Festival in Mineral Point. The festival is set for Sept. 13, and features workshops by local authors including Susan Gloss, Ann Garvin and Erin Cellelo.

Michael Perry will conclude the festival with a show called “Michael Perry Runs His Yapper” at the Mineral Point Opera House at 7 p.m. Learn more at swwibookfestival.com.

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