An illustration of a series of mathematical and scientific measuring tools, weighing and measuring piles of books.

What your reading habits tell us about 2021

Miles of Marian Keyes. Years of Richard Osman. A multitude of, um, Kama Sutra positions. Here are the book numbers and statistics that defined the past 12 months.

“We tell ourselves stories in order to live,” Joan Didion once wisely said. So what has been the story of 2021? One way to tell it is by looking at what we have read, not just individually but collectively.

Here, we draw on data and statistics about books and what you've been reading over the past 12 months to capture something of the essence of the year. Some of it will surprise you, some of it may make you laugh, all of it offers an insight into how we have responded to another difficult and unpredictable year by taking solace between the pages (or recordings) of brilliant books.

233 years of Murder

300% more spirit of adventure

During a year in which your biggest “adventure” in a day was, most likely, walking from your kitchen table (work!) to… your couch (leisure!), readers craved getting as close to a real adventure as possible – which perhaps explains why, in 2021, there was year-on-year increase of 300% in published book titles featuring the word “adventure”. Can you really blame anyone for craving a bit of beyond-your-flat escapism?

12.8 km of growing up

6,454 entry level positions

The pandemic took away so much of our freedom that we were left with few precious things to occupy our time: reading; TV and movies; cooking; and, er, certain more primal pastimes. You know the one. Which explains why one of 2021’s surprise best-sellers was Kama Sutra: a Position a Day, 365 Days a Year, which sold an impressive 6,454 copies this year. For those doing the maths, that’s 2,355,710 positions. Nice.

67 times we tried to make time

Crime, with 80% fewer killers

At bookstores across the UK, crime, mysteries and thrillers have continued to lead the way in terms of sales. Aside from the sheer pleasure of the story, there is also an odd comfort we get from books in this genre, which take our fears and solve them, giving us a sense the world is somehow manageable.

Yet, there was a slight change in the tone of crime novels over the last two years: since 2019, there has been an 80% year-on-year decrease in the word “killer” in book titles. Perhaps, with the pandemic giving an unwelcome sense of danger to everyday life, it makes sense our taste has softened somewhat to prefer more in the burgeoning “cosy crime” genre, which is being led – to come full-circle – by Richard Osman’s hugely popular Thursday Murder Club novels.

63% more historic secrets thanks to TikTok

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Image: Rebecca Hendin for Penguin

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