Saturday, June 25, 2005


Reading at... Umm, Never Mind

The year mark is approaching since the release of the ballyhooed NEA Reading at Risk report, whose results have ever since been the subject of blogger disputes worthy of medieval theologians. So it's a funny thing that virtually no media picked up on this June 3rd release of a Gallup poll that found a shocking...

Oh. Seems it found nothing shocking at all:

About one in every two Americans is currently engrossed in some type of book, according to Gallup's latest measure of the public's reading habits. About half of Americans also say they have read more than five books in the past year, not much different from the number reported a decade and a half ago.

Only the Christian Science Monitor appears to have paid much notice, adding this detail: "A Gallup poll taken in May found that 47 percent of Americans on any given day are reading a book. This is up from 37 percent in 1990, and 23 percent in 1957. The median number of books read in a year is five."

Now, I'm not sure if I entirely believe those numbers, at least not in direct comparison with the NEA's -- and until the day comes when I'm willing to shell out $95 to get behind Gallup's subscriber wall, I guess I'll never know. Frankly, 47 percent on any given day sounds high to me. But the results reported do give one pause... as does a Canadian study reported in yesterday's Globe and Mail:

Yesterday's study, titled Reading and Buying Books for Pleasure, comes while some have speculated that the Internet and television would result in a decline in reading. Almost 90 per cent of Canadians said they read books, a figure that did not change since the last survey in 1991. More than half of Canadians surveyed said they read almost every day.

The report also points out that people spend far more time watching TV than reading. But that does not necessarily translate into the death of literature. It might just mean that reading is trundling along, more or less the same as before. Or the conflicting studies might indicate a far more complex and perhaps less sustained type of decline than what was trumpeted after the NEA study.

But that's not nearly as gratifying as proclaiming the literary Apocalypse, is it?

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