To Read or Not To Read

To Read or Not To Read: A Question of National Consequence…That is the name of the recent study conducted by the National Endowment for the Arts on reading habits in America.  Just as I was writing about the study in the UK on re-reading in my post Reading and Re-reading, regretting no such kind of surveys being done in North America, and here it is, the NEA’s reading survey results, incidentally, released the same day I published my post. 

Well, maybe I should not be so much of lamenting the lack of reading surveys than the actual survey results.  In a nutshell, the major findings are:

  • Americans are reading less, especially the young.  For example, the percent of non-readers among 17 year-olds doubled to almost 20% in the last two decades.  Or, on the average, 15 – 24 year-olds spend 7 minutes reading on a weekday, 25 – 34 year-olds are slightly better, 9 minutes.
  • Reading comprehension is on the decline, as indicated by reading scores.
  • The decline in reading has civic, social, and economic implications.

The whole 98-page report can be downloaded in pdf format here.  It is not Stephen King material, but just the same…interesting reading with an ominous undertone.  It covers various topics including correlations between pleasure reading and academic scores, reading habits, reading and multitasking, employment, internet and digital technology, the relevance of newspaper, and yes, even blogging.

I understand that the issue is complicated and the causes are complex.  Critics are quick to point out that the form and purpose of reading have changed in this internet driven age.  People still read to look up information they need, critics argue.

Maybe the concern should be the gradual extinction of literary reading, the reading of literature for pleasure, and the whole business of reading and writing.  When the figure shows that 63% of college seniors read little or nothing for pleasure, even the pragmatists should be worried when they consider the bottom line.