America still reading, but there’s fewer of us

America still reading, but there’s fewer of us

The National Endowment for the Arts says the number of American adults who read literature has fallen to 46.7 percent from 56.9 percent in 1982. This is a glass half-empty, half-full situation. While reading is declining, there are still many people reading. (By the way, “literature” is defined as novels, short stories, poetry, and plays. While Bill Clinton’s “My Life” could arguably be described as fiction, technically it doesn’t fall under the literature heading.)

Contrary to popular wisdom, it’s not necessarily all TV’s fault. “Literary readers average 2.7 hours of TV daily, compared with 3.1 hours for the numbskulls reading either “Diana” or nothing at all.” Women read more than men, and the heaviest readers live in the Mountain states (Montana-Wyoming through Nevada to New Mexico.)

Rather than TV as the killer of books, the author of the article says it’s obvious that the Internet is at fault. He cites the modest decline in reading from 1982 to 1992, but a sharp drop over the past 10 years. I’ll agree that web-reading is a boot camp for attention deficit disorder. But surely some of the decline can also be attributable to a lesser selection of works to read. Without doing a scientific survey, it’s surely not a great reach to say that at least 60 percent of the fiction in the average Barnes and Noble right now is not worth the paper it’s written on. (I’m being generous, too.) And that’s not literary snobbery. I’ve read a lot of good pulpy fiction, frothy and light fiction. No, I mean there’s a lot of “serious” fiction that’s little more than ego and poor writing wrapped up tightly in a package of marketing and politically correct buzz.

So, like most things, the decline in reading doesn’t have a simple cause. Now, if you’ll excuse me I have a nice novel waiting for me.

  • That’s for sure….some of the other usual suspects….parents don’t read….kids don’t read….the intellectual values are rarely supported in the home anymore…the school curriculum threw out many of the classics…summer reading is not a big educational thing anymore….and on and on…One thing that helps (speaking as a teacher)….is to view the play in conjunction with the literary experience…on video or on the stage if possible……it helps to overcome the language barrier. Isn’t it ironic…the internet offers a virtual cornucopia of the arts and humanities…yet people of all ages seem to
    be getting more and more functionally illiterate in many of the disciplines.

  • I just finished Shadow Divers and have to say that although it isn’t literature it surely discusses the human condition.  I have found that while I can’t really stand a lot of contemporary fiction I love many of the books about nineteenth century science and achievements.  Many of them are a great window into people.  Of course, others a a great course in twentieth century propaganda…

  • I would also attribute the decline to the never ending “Left Behind” series!!  After reading that horrible set of books, I had to seriously consider retiring my reading glasses. 

    Also has anyone else noticed that there are a lot more spelling errors in bathroom grafitti?  I now travel with a red pen in my pocket to correct mistakes.

  • This is a study in need of a purpose. 

    In typically activist-dire tones, the study declares, eap classics series

    I just recently picked up a beautifully-bound hardcover edition of Crime and Punishment, printed in the Barnes&Noble; classics series.  They have some great stuff.


  • Jaime – I found your red pen and graffiti comment hilarious!~ Just struck me right in the funnybone. We have a BBQ place here in Syracuse that’s known for it’s bathroom graffiti – can’t wait to go there with red pen in hand……ahem….well now for my serious comment on the death of reading – nuts!

  • Jamie….is that in both male and female facilities??  BTW: Tim LeHaye is one of the most virulent anti-catholics you can find…