Have You Read a Good Book Lately…. Or Any Book?

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You would have to know that an article entitled, The Decline of the American Book Lover, would catch my interest. Written by Jordan Weissman for The Atlantic (January 21, 2014), this article describes the erosion of book reading habits as delineated by a recent Pew Research Center Study. But Weissman also makes a case that this decline may be over. Quite frankly, these data were too depressing to me to be too hopeful from his analysis.

The study provides an interesting picture of how e-reading and the use of devices has increased. The study was conducted in early January, 2014 through telephone interviews with 1005 adults living in the continental United States. The report was released on January 16, 2014, and can be found on the Pew website (http://pewinternet.org). But here are the results that got my attention.

Twenty-three percent of all Americans did not read a single book (in any format) last year. That percentage of non-readers has climbed over the past two decades and has tripled since 1978. Even more, those who read seem to be reading less. In 1978, 42% of adults had read 11 books or more in a year (about one book a month). Today, only 28% report that level of reading.

The profile of readers generated from this report is also interesting:

-       More women than men have read at least one book;

-       Blacks are more likely to have read a book than whites or Hispanics;

-       Younger adults (age 18-29) were more likely to have read a book than any other age group;

-       There is little difference in readership among urban, suburban and rural populations.

Weissmans somewhat optimistic prognosis is based on the fact that readership seems to correlate with education level. The more education a person has, the more s/he seems to read. If one believes that the level of education in this country is growing, one can hope that reading levels will increase.

What finally compelled me to address this issue in this weeks blog was an article by Charles Blow in the NY Times entitled, Reading Books is Fundamental. Reacting to this research, Blow shares a poignant story about the first significant purchase he ever made by himself with his own money it was a book, not a toy. It was the story of Job from the Bible.

I recall a similar experience. The first book I bought for myself was a world history with an atlas. This book allowed me to explore the world, to learn about geography, to become familiar with countries and cities and regions of the world unknown to most of us. It allowed me to escape into the mind of the author.

Blow writes more eloquently than I could ever state, Reading texts is not the same as reading a text. There is no intellectual equivalent to allowing oneself the time and space to get lost in another persons mind, because in doing so we find ourselves.

My wife, who is an accomplished librarian, argues that all reading is good when I bemoan the fact that children are not reading the classics. I think she is right. And whether on a Kindle, a Nook, on the computer, on an audiobook, or my personal favorite, a hardbound copy from the library, I hope that this generation will play video games less, talk and text less, share less on social media and read a good book!

(As always, your comments and questions are welcome.)

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Guest Thursday, 24 July 2014