shaken & stirred

welcome to my martini glass


tolling the bell

There's an article in the NYT today, which I'm sure everyone will be linking to, about an NEA study indicating how many people read books (that are classified as literature).

The Census Bureau study upon which the survey was based measured the number of adult Americans who attended live performances of theater, music, dance and other arts; visited museums; watched broadcasts of arts programs; or read literature in the past year. The survey sample — 17,135 people — makes it one of the largest studies ever conducted on the subject of arts participation, and the data were compared with similar studies from 1982 and 1992. In the literature segment respondents were asked whether they had, during the previous 12 months, without the impetus of a school or work assignment, read any novels, short stories, poems or plays in their leisure time.

Their answers show that just over half — 56.6 percent — read a book of any kind in the previous year, down from 60.9 percent a decade earlier. Readers of literature fell even more precipitously, to 46.7 percent of the adult population, down from 54 percent in 1992 and 56.9 percent in 1982, which means that in the last decade the erosion accelerated significantly. The literary reading public lost 5 percent of its girth between 1982 and 1992; another 14 percent dropped away in the following decade. And though the number of readers of literature is about the same now as it was in 1982 — about 96 million people — the American population as a whole has increased by almost 40 million.

The survey found that men (37.6 percent) were doing less literary reading than women (55.1 percent); that Hispanics (26.5 percent) were doing less than African-Americans (37.1 percent) and whites (51.4 percent); but that all categories were declining. The steepest declines of any demographic group are among the youngest adults. In 1982, 59.8 percent of 18-to-24-year-olds read literature; by 2002 that figure had dropped to 42.8 percent. In the 25-to-34 age group, the percentage of literary readers dropped to 47.7 from 62.1 over the same period.

Unfortunately, I have time to say nothing about this at the moment... I'm inclined to be surprised the numbers are this high. And I wish that China Mieville's speech from Wiscon two years ago was online somewhere, because his provocative comments about the entitlement and superiority readers feel over nonreaders are, well, provocative, and an interesting counterpoint to the obvious sense of panic these sort of numbers tend to produce.

Young people: read more, damn it!

Message to Oprah: Start two new book clubs this year.

Ladies: Keep up the good work.


  • At 1:04 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    What counts as literature by their standards? I'm guessing from the phrasing that "literature" means "fiction, poetry, and drama," but I'm not sure. If so, I wonder how many of the people surveyed read nothing but a Harry Potter book in the last year...

    I liked the line "total sales of consumer book products increased 6 percent for the year," but mostly because I like the phrase "consumer book products."


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