Whether in a crowded library or a dark bedroom, few experiences feel as personal as reading a book. Books are about eye and page, about one human brain in conversation with another.
Yet the business of books is never quite about these airy virtues. And like any big business, publishing must always center on the mass: What do the most people want? What will the most people buy? What do people respond to?
Between these two, there is a strange relationship. Companies collect and analyze this data, but rarely do readers get to see it.
New data from Amazon, released to The Atlantic, gives us a peek at what, specifically, readers connect with. These are the most popular highlights in some of the service’s most popular books.
Amazon doesn’t release sales data for Kindles, so the question of what makes the list of most-popular highlights is somewhat interesting. It takes more than 4,000 highlights to make something the most popular passage in Pride and Prejudice, but only about 650 for something to be the most popular highlight in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.
Below, you’ll find passages from Austen, Tolkien, the Bible, and every tome of Harry Potter. (With some spoilers—though don’t worry, it’s not that section of Half-Blood Prince.)
Are these your favorite passages too? Are they the most beautiful, the most poetic, or just, well, the most maudlin?
The most popular from Pride and Prejudice:
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.
The Lord of the Rings:
The wide world is all about you: you can fence yourselves in, but you cannot for ever fence it out.
From the Bible (specifically, the New International Version—the best-selling electronic version on Amazon):
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
There are many Beths in the world, shy and quiet, sitting in corners till needed, and living for others so cheerfully that no one sees the sacrifices till the little cricket on the hearth stops chirping, and the sweet, sunshiny presence vanishes, leaving silence and shadow behind.
A Wrinkle In Time:
But of course we can’t take any credit for our talents. It’s how we use them that counts.
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe:
Wrong will be right,
when Aslan comes in sight,
At the sound of his roar,
sorrows will be no more,
When he bares his teeth,
winter meets its death,
And when he shakes his mane,
we shall have spring again.
The Hunger Games:
The rules of the Hunger Games are simple. In punishment for the uprising, each of the twelve districts must provide one girl and one boy, called tributes, to participate. The twenty-four tributes will be imprisoned in a vast outdoor arena that could hold anything from a burning desert to a frozen wasteland. Over a period of several weeks, the competitors must fight to the death. The last tribute standing wins.
And then there is the Harry Potter series. Down the line, from Sorcerer’s Stone:
It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live, remember that. Now, why don’t you put that admirable Cloak back on and get off to bed?
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets:
'Because that’s what Hermione does,’ said Ron, shrugging. ‘When in doubt, go to the library.’
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban:
‘THEN YOU SHOULD HAVE DIED!’ roared Black. ‘DIED RATHER THAN BETRAY YOUR FRIENDS, AS WE WOULD HAVE DONE FOR YOU!’
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire:
'You fail to recognize that it matters not what someone is born, but what they grow to be!'
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix:
'Just because you’ve got the emotional range of a teaspoon doesn’t mean we all have.'
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince:
'Voldemort himself created his worst enemy, just as tyrants everywhere do! Have you any idea how much tyrants fear the people they oppress? All of them realize that, one day, amongst their many victims, there is sure to be one who rises against them and strikes back!'
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows:
'Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?'