Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Reading More, Reading Less

The National Endowment for the Arts has been surveying the reading habits of Americans since 1982, and the news has been consistently dismal. According to the NEA's surveys, the percentage of American adults who report that they do "literary" reading (novels, short stories, poems, or plays) has declined every year. Five years ago, the survey results were so yucky the NEA went so far as to title its annual survey "Reading at Risk."

Happily though, this year's results show an increase in respondents who claim to have done some "literary" reading during the survey period: from 46.7% of responding adults in 2002 to 50.2% in 2008. But paradoxically, the same survey shows that the percentage of American adults who read any book not required for work or school during the survey period continued to decline, falling from 56.6% in 2002 to 54.3% in 2008.


You can read the full story here.

Nobody seems to be able to explain these contradictory results, although the NEA claims partial credit for calling attention to the decline of reading, prompting teachers and librarians to put additional emphasis on recreational reading.

The actual rise in reading rates came entirely from prose fiction (thrillers, mysteries, science fiction, romance, etc), as opposed to the other forms of so-called "literary" reading (nonfiction, poetry, plays, etc). This implies, of course, that the reading is primarily recreational, rather than directed toward self-improvement or education. Is this a bad thing, or is it better that people are reading at all?

If you read my post on what I read in 2008, you know that my interests are pretty wide-ranging. I can't imagine anyone not wanting to read whatever they can get their hands on.

Perhaps the issue is, as the article suggests, that more people are doing their reading online. That's possible, but somehow I can't imagine curling up in front of the fire with a good laptop. I need a real book with pages that rustle as you turn them. They're such an improvement on the old cunieform tablets Mike and Gilahi and I grew up with, dontcha know. And Andrea, bless her heart, has invited me to join her reading circle on GoodReads.com, so there's hope out there for us readers.

Go out and read something. If you want recommendations, check my earlier blog post or just ask. Reading expands your mind and informs you about the world around you.

And God knows we need all the information we can get nowadays.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.



Amanda said...

Do you think you could enjoy reading from one of those e-book readers? They don't rustle but they do seem fairly portable and able to be read from various angles.

The Mistress of the Dark said...

Goodreads is so addicting. I'm finally getting through Monster Of Florence. Be proud of me.

Mike said...

I remember in grade school belonging to the summer reading club. The library would give you a certificate for reading x number of books over the summer.

One summer I remember reading every fiction book that had anything to do with dogs that the library had.

fiona said...

I read at least two books a week. We still have three "huge" boxes that came with us from Scotland 9 years ago, full of books that we can't bear to part with.

twinkie said...

maybe the people that answered the survey don't know how to read? And they picked their choices depending on what letter looked purty?

Kidding. Sorta. But not really.

michelle said...

haha. i am reading less because Breaking Dawn (conclusion to the Twilight series) was so horrible, I am scared to pick up another book :)