Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The tragedy of booklessness

Another fine post (a bit aged; my bad) from Purple Motes, this time about the decline in literary reading in the U.S. The news comes from an NEA report, "Reading at Risk."

The short version is summed up by the table below:

Literary Reading by Sex
(% reading in given year)


1982 1992 2002
Women 63.0% 60.3% 55.1%
Men 49.1% 47.4% 37.6%


So... literary reading is down about 10% since 1982; men read 17.5% less than women; and only about a third of men read literary books.

Put it in reverse: two-thirds of men don't read literature.

Now, some other data I've seen indicates that reading, in general--both online and in books-- is up a bit. But that's not necessarily "literary reading," is it? Reading magazines, blogs, etc. is great. But there is a certain something to reading "books" that doesn't translate from other types of reading. So... who cares about novels?

My wife and I have a qualification for many of the people we meet whom, while nice, probably won't be hanging out with us or vice versa. We simply say to each other, "They don't read." And by that we mean, usually, books. Novels. Literature. I remember when, at a much younger age, I sold magazines by phone in order to help make ends meet. Our manager/trainer gave us tips on what to say to counter various objections to a sale. "If someone says, 'I don't read,'" he told us, "Sell 'em TV Guide."

Just because everyone can read, not everybody reads, apparently.

My major was literature and writing. The idea of a life without novels is... well... frightening. What do people do with their brains if they aren't (ever) reading? I wonder. What characters are in there and what dialogue? What is a life without the joy of great, written tales?

Two-thirds of men don't read. Wow. That just scares the crap out of me. I'd almost rather know that two-thirds of men cheat on their wives or steal from the poor box.

And I'm not a high-brow when it comes to lit. I like some tone in my tome, but I also read "fun" stuff. Lots of fun stuff. Some fun stuff that's also pretty tone-y. That's the point; read lots and figure out what you like and why. Talk about it with friends. Loan and borrow books. Add more books than you could possibly read to your Amazon (or WorldCat) list.

My son has a touch of dyslexia; the only thing he gets from his mom that I regret ;)  The blue eyes, blonde hair, engineering knack and gorgeous smile are some of the bonuses. He does OK at reading out-loud, but reading to himself is still, at the age of 8, a bit painful for him. I can't imagine, though, what his like might be like if he doesn't eventually end up with the deep love of reading my wife and I share.

So... the question becomes: how do you get people to read literature who have not? Because, really... it's one of life's greatest joys. Missing out on it is like... well... it would suck. 

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