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.

Adora Svitak: “Tiny Literary Giant”

“Knights!  Clear the square of townsfolk!” the Duke cried.  Within a few moments, the square was empty except for the Duke, the Duchess, Myles, Didoni, and the large, burly knights who were guarding the Duke.  The men put the litter down, and the Duchess lay down to rest.  The Duke was telling Didoni what he wanted on his portrait.

“Make me look strong and majestic. I want no one to think that I am a weakling, like my soft older brother the King,” the Duke said imperiously.

“Knights! Clear the square of townsfolk!” the Duke cried. Within a few moments, the square was empty except for the Duke, the Duchess, Myles, Didoni, and the large, burly knights who were guarding the Duke. The men put the litter down, and the Duchess lay down to rest. The Duke was telling Didoni what he wanted on his portrait.  

“Why not paint a suit of armor?” Myles suggested before he could stop himself.

“Yes! The lad has quite the idea!” the Duke exclaimed. “Paint me in a suit of armor, with nothing amiss. Make my eyes as sharp as an eagle’s, and my nose straight and curved at the end. My lips I care for not— but make them solemn.”

Didoni nodded.

“It shall be done of course, your Grace,” Didoni said, already beginning to sketch on his canvas.

                                —- Excerpt from Adora Svitak’s Historical Fiction


 Adora Svitak Website

Just as I was saying in my last post that I’d never come across any literary prodigy, the name Adora Svitak came up on my computer screen last night.  The above excerpt is one of the sample writings from her website,  where you can also find her poems and fantasy writing.  Adora is a 10 year-old girl from Redmond, Washington.  Whether you want to label her a prodigy or not really does not change what has taken place in her life.  Here are the milestones so far:

Age 2.5: 

Could read and write simple words.

Age 3.5:

Read her first chapter book.

Age 4:

Started writing short stories.

Age 6:

Got a laptop from her Mom, writing began to take off.

Age 7:

Published 296-page Flying Fingers, a collection of her own fiction and writing tips for others (with her Mom).  Appeared on Good Morning America, interviewed by Diane Sawyer, who called her “Tiny Literary Giant”.  Met Peter Jennings and was given his book The Century For Young People, which remained her favorite.  Started Adora’s Blog.

Age 8:

Had written over 400 short stories and 100 poems, typed 60-80 words per minute, read 3 books at a time, 18 books a week.  Oh, that’s nothing, you might say, “My kid could do that.”  Just wait, Voltaire’s Candide?

Another book in the work, a collection of her poems called Dancing Fingers.

Promoted literacy to children in the UK.  Here’s The Guardian report:,,1713183,00.html

Age 9:

Completing her first full-length novel Yang in Disguise,  serving as a spokesperson for Verizon Reads campaign for literacy, working on an animated computer program to help develop childhood literacy.

Montel Interview:

Note: According to her interview on Montel, the proceeds of her book Flying Fingers will be going to the National Education Association and she would auction off some of her works to raise money for the victims of hurricane Katrina, rebuilding libraries in schools.

All in all, I feel that this gifted little girl doesn’t really care whether you label her “literary prodigy” or not.  She’s having the time of her life in her reading, writing, cooking, playing, and helping others how to read and write…  And, how many 10 year-olds can have the terms “Writer, Poet, Humanitarian” to describe themselves on their website?